Luis Molina had hoped to debate his opponent in Patterson’s mayoral race, incumbent Becky Campo, but instead he addressed a mostly empty room Wednesday night during his town hall meeting at the Best Western Villa Del Lago.
With Tuesday’s election looming, the vacant chairs and subdued crowd came after a week that saw a mystery source air Molina’s dirty laundry in an attempt to derail his political ambition.
“People are going to great lengths … to discredit us,” Molina said.
Last week, an unknown woman left newspaper articles at the Irrigator’s office that detailed a 1994 incident in which Molina used his position as student body president of Hayward’s Chabot College to take about $500 of student government funds for personal use.
Ultimately, Molina resigned from his position and returned the money, which he said was used for family bills.
“We wore the proverbial scarlet letter for a while,” Molina said. “I’m sure there were people that talked about us, some of them behind our back.”
The Modesto Bee also received the articles, but not anonymously. Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini — a strong Campo supporter — delivered the articles to the paper after he found them in front of his house, he said.
“I gave it to the Bee because it was pretty interesting,” DeMartini said.
Molina talked about the revelation at Wednesday’s town hall meeting.
“Bringing up past incidents doesn’t discourage us,” Molina told the few in attendance. “It only makes us more determined.”
Much at stake
Two issues have brought special attention to this election: PCCP West Park’s proposed development of the Crows Landing Air Facility and the revision of Patterson’s general plan. Both issues have the potential to forever change the character of Patterson and the West Side.
The West Park proposal would turn the former naval airbase in Crows Landing — along with thousands of acres of surrounding farmland — into a 7.5-square-mile industrial center. The project would be larger than the cities of Newman and Patterson combined.
Proponents tout thousands of jobs for Stanislaus County, while opponents decry increased automobile and train traffic and the destruction of farmland.
Campo and the Patterson City Council are leading the opposition and are embroiled in a lawsuit against West Park and Stanislaus County.
One of Molina’s first actions after declaring his candidacy was to state his opposition to the West Park project and declare that he was not affiliated with West Park’s lead developer, Gerry Kamilos. Still, rumors have dogged Molina, including some from the people he might end up serving with.
Councilwoman Annette Smith — herself up for re-election Tuesday — said she’s been especially suspicious since seeing that Food 4 Less president and CEO John Quinn made the largest donation by any individual in this election when he gave $3,000 to the Molina campaign.
“I’ve been troubled by the amount of money and who gave it to him,” Smith said.
Molina said he came to know Quinn through the Food 4 Less in Ceres, which lies in the district he represents on the county board of education. When Quinn heard of Molina’s bid for mayor, he asked what he could do to help, Molina said.
The other hot-button issue in this year’s election is the revision to the general plan, the state-mandated document that guides where, when and what type of development will occur in and around Patterson.
The city is in the process of revising its plan, and for the few big landowners who own much of the property surrounding the city, the plan could add millions to their property values. Not surprisingly, most of them are taking a keen interest in the revision process.
Molina says their interest, and the fact some of them sit on the advisory committee that got the revisions rolling, has led to Patterson’s future being shaped for the betterment of a small few.
“(I’m) running against special interests and big money,” Molina said.
This resistance to Patterson’s old guard has made him the campaign’s outsider, a mantle he’s accepted and that he expected, especially after seeing who was helping Campo organize.
Molina talked about seeing two of Patterson’s major developers putting up Campo campaign signs along East Las Palmas Avenue.
“I knew what side they were on,” Molina said.
Molina’s suspicions have been supported by campaign finance documents. While most of Molina’s contributions — Quinn’s aside — have come in small amounts, Campo has gotten a large chunk of her money from local farmers and developers.
Earlier in the campaign, Molina appeared be riding high. He had the larger coffers, and his opponent would not debate him. The candidates appeared together in public only twice — at the Irrigator’s Candidates Night Forum in September and the Youth Candidates Forum on Tuesday — and neither was a traditional debate format.
“I’ll admit it,” Campo said. “He’d probably win (a debate). He’s a better speaker than me.”
At that time, it was Campo who was complaining about negativity, though the attacks against her turned out to be child’s play compared to the investigation that revealed the Chabot incident.
Someone vandalized numerous Campo campaign signs and damaged the shadow box in front of her business’ downtown office, and neighbors told her a man had been snooping around her property. She suspected someone was trying to follow up on rumors that she did not live in Patterson, rumors that she adamantly denies.
But that was before the mystery source got involved. Now, Campo has new life in her campaign, and instead of Molina getting his chance to confront the sitting mayor Wednesday, the challenger addressed an almost empty room after receiving the most pointed attack of his political life.
“We’ll take some body blows, and we’ll counterpunch as well,” Molina said. “But not by using those tactics.”
Council also contested
While the mayoral race, with its twists, turns and dirt, has grabbed most of the headlines, two City Council seats are also being contested in Tuesday’s elections. Political newcomer Jeff Realini and former mayoral candidate Victor Slonksnis are challenging incumbents Dominic Farinha and Annette Smith. The two top vote-getters will win four-year seats on the next council.
So far, Smith and Farinha have run the more dedicated campaigns. Their signs are out in full force, and both have raised about $3,000 for their campaigns. Realini said he did not spend enough money on his campaign to be required to file disclosure statements, and Slonksnis said he did not raise any money.
This is Slonksnis’ second run for Patterson office. In 2006, Campo beat him by about 60 percentage points in his run for mayor. At the time, it was reported that he had a felony conviction in 2003 for threatening to kill his wife. Since then, he has accomplished the court-mandated requirements to have his record expunged, he said.
Slonksnis has said that if elected, he’d be able to convince corporations to locate in Patterson because he would talk directly to the leaders of those companies. He’s also said he’d bring a multitiered parking lot to downtown.
Realini is making his first foray into Patterson elected office, though he did have a brief stint on Patterson’s Beautification Committee. He also touts change and has been critical of the current administration.
Smith and Farinha have been running similar campaigns and have been delivering similar messages. They say it is unwise to elect inexperienced and unproven representatives at a time when the city is revising its general plan and opposing the West Park project.
Two other issues on Tuesday’s ballot will have a significant local impact — measures V and S. Both are asking for voters to increase local taxes to provide amenities.
Measure S wants to impose an additional half-cent sales tax throughout the county to generate huge sums for road projects.
Measure V is being proposed by the Patterson Unified School District. If approved, the measure would increase property taxes to build new school facilities and update aging infrastructure.
Contact John Saiz at 892-6187 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.