There are seven people running for three Modesto City Council seats, and four of them are either unqualified or unsuited for the job. Unfortunately, one of those four is an incumbent.
The Bee cannot endorse incumbent Tony Madrigal in Council District 2. We are concerned by poor decisions on key votes, grandstanding, the unexplained use of campaign funds and lingering questions over where he actually resides.
Besides, voters have a far better option – Homero Mejia.
Mejia has been a faith leader, community activist and teacher. He was inspired by the Weed & Seed program of a decade ago that helped clean up and reduce crime in large swaths of West Modesto and was honored last year as one of The Bee’s 20 Under 40. He’s an immigrant who has earned his citizenship and understands the plight of others in similar situations.
District 2 is made up largely of Latino voters, many of whom rarely exercise their rights – a population Mejia knows well through his efforts to register voters in the last presidential campaign and his work with those covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. By contrast, Madrigal’s greatest achievement over the past four years is raising more than $100,000 in campaign contributions.
While he’s done little else to distinguish himself, that hasn’t kept him from bragging about it. Madrigal has claimed credit for a seasonal ice rink and establishment of UC Merced classes in Modesto. His involvement in either was minimal, as documented in reporting by The Bee’s Kevin Valine.
Sheriff Adam Christianson accused Madrigal of “political exploitation” when he used the name of community service officer Raschel Johnson – who had been killed in a car crash – to advertise an event.
Madrigal was one of four city council members choosing to dismiss city manager Jim Holgersson – a mistake that cost the city $128,850 it could have saved by simply waiting a few months. The only reason Madrigal could offer was that he wanted a city manager who was more focused on “economic development.”
While Madrigal has held several jobs while serving on the council, his greatest success has been fund-raising ‑ over $100,000 since his 2013 election. That’s nearly 10 times what Mejia says he’ll raise and spend. When asked how he’s spent some of the money, Madrigal has been evasive – an alarming red flag.
Jon Rodriguez, a third candidate, lost to Madrigal by a 2-to-1 margin in 2013 (in a race in which only 1,460 votes were cast). Rodriguez was elected to the Yosemite Community College District board last November, but cannot hold both elected positions simultaneously. His candidacy alone makes us wonder about his commitment to the college district.
By voting for Mejia, District 2 voters are voting for better communications, greater transparency and a strong commitment to the city and its most ignored residents. Modesto needs all three in buckets.
In District 4, incumbent Bill Zoslocki is the only real choice. He has served with distinction and integrity. Importantly, he’s not afraid to change his mind as issues develop. Zoslocki fought Holgersson’s firing – “he was doing a great job” – but was on the losing side of the decision.
We questioned Zoslocki about his support for considering the purchase of an entire city block. He pointed out that when the state dissolved city redevelopment agencies, it left cities with few options for spurring innovative development – something Modesto desperately needs. One way is to acquire land and partner with private builders. He didn’t say that’s what the city will do, but we like his thinking.
Tyler Ray, 24, is simply not qualified for the job. Not even a little. The city council is not an internship program. His views on the homeless (he suggested building a “gated community” that sounded a bit more like a walled compound) and marijuana taxes since it is now legal across the United States (actually, it’s not) show his naivete.
District 5 incumbent Jenny Kenoyer is 82, but age does not appear to be an impediment. Kenoyer is feisty and entirely comfortable going her own way, asking tough questions and confronting those with whom she disagrees. She’s locked horns with Mayor Ted Brandvold over replacing the city’s auditor and jousted with those angry that the city might plan to annex parts of Wood Colony.
Yet, Kenoyer is extraordinarily candid. When asked who has contributed to her campaign, she answered, “I ask for donations everywhere I go. I’ve always said, if you can’t ask for money, you don’t belong in politics.”
Her opponent, Joe Day, has an alarming past and is unsuited to public office. He previously served on the Tuolumne Utilities District Board, neglecting to resign for perhaps a year after he moved his family to Modesto. While he’s lived here several years, he has yet to attend a City Council meeting – calling into question his commitment to anything other than getting the job.
Kenoyer, Zoslocki and Mejia belong on Modesto’s City Council. Their opponents quite clearly do not.