Many vying to be mayor

By Mark Godi

There is no shortage of people who want to fix the myriad of problems the city of Stockton, Ca has.

March 8 was the last day hopefuls could register to enter the city’s mayoral race with seven candidates checking in. The group of James Butler, Gregory Pitsch, Anthony Silva, Jimmie Rishwain, Anthony Stevens and Ralph Lee White will take on incumbent Ann Johnston.

The group, in record numbers, takes on one another with the city on the brink of bankruptcy. Interesting, the number of candidates has grown each of the past four elections as the city’s problems have mounted. At the city’s best in 2000, Gary Podesto ran for mayor without opponent.

“I think what you’re seeing here is an example insider and outsider elections,” Stevens said. “When things are going well, the incumbent tends to win. When things aren’t going well, it opens things up for others.

“Right now, we have a lot of people who feel like they have better ideas.”

The number of Stockton's mayoral candidates since 2000.

City manager Bob Dies has spent 32 years doing government service and was hired in July of 2010. He began investigating how Stockton got into its current mess and puts much of the blame on city council decisions during the previous decades.

From 1998-2001, the council voted unanimously to award hefty retirement packages to several city unions. The Stockton Police Officers Association, the Stockton City Employees Association, and Firefighters Association were among them. The problem was that possible hard times were never considered and officials never set aside a plan for funding these packages. Over-leveraging then occurred on the bond market and the city now owes retirees $417 million it doesn’t have.

The downtown revitalization in 2004 also has added to the bill. Stockton built a waterfront baseball park, arena, hotel, and parking garages, in hopes of stopping a trend of businesses moving north. None of the above ever came close to projected income.

So with the city in major debt, Stockton defaulted on its first payment this month. Wells Fargo was due the first of two annual payments of $700,000 on a loan for three downtown parking garages. Stockton has entered AB506 negotiations, a secretive mediation that recently became mandatory for cities to enter before they can declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

“The hope of AB506 is to avoid having to file for bankruptcy,” Johnson said. “All I can say is we’re going to know more after 90 days. The way its set up, we cannot talk about what’s going on in the meetings or even who (of the creditors) is involved.

Johnson, 69, edged Clem Lee for mayor with 52% of the vote in 2008 and was previously a council member from 1995-2002. She also owns the Stockton-based party store The Balloonery.

“What I can say is the current group we have working has learned from the past. Every number is closely evaluated and calculated for the future.”

Candidate Stevens, 46, is a former Stockton police officer and owns an auto dealership now in Elk Grove. If elected, he would put his focus on helping city officials gather better information.

“What’s troubling now is that no one seems to have an idea of where we’re at financially,” Stevens said. “There is money appearing out of nowhere. We don’t have an audited financial statement telling us where we are.”

Completed in 2006, Stockton's arena lost $2.7 million in its first year of operation.

Candidate Butler, 59, has worked for the city’s municipal utilities as plan maintenance supervisor for 20 years. He plans to retire in June, and wants to focus on jobs if he’s elected.

“My thing is to get a commission together and go after employers to come into the city,” Butler said. “We need industry and we need production jobs that we used to have in the 70s and 80s.”

The oldest of the candidates is Rishwain, 81, who served as mayor for three years in the 1960s. He was subsequently recalled for what opponents considered overstepping his bounds. Rishwain was taken to task for apparently looking to expand the mayor’s powers.

Rishwain has lived in Stockton most of his life and is a real estate developer and investor. He also owns a bar called Jimmie’s Place located on West Lane.

“The road to become mayor has changed a lot since I was mayor,” Rishwain said. “There process has expanded, but people are willing to do it.

“I’m back in it because I’m still a Stocktonian and things are screwed up right now.”

Attempts to contact Pitsch, Silva and White were made but they did not immediately return phone calls. Pitsch is the youngest candidate at 26 and is the president of a private corporation. White, 69, is a local business owner and served on the city council in the 1970s and 80, including a stint as vice mayor. Silva is the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Stockton and a former Stockton Unified School District councilman.

JRN Assignment 3: Write an 800-word issues story involving an idea, problem or trend. Include a photographic component and numerical representation such a graphic or map, etc.

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