Candidates face first district elections

Two hotly contested races highlight this fall’s Concord City Council elections, making the choices dramatic – thanks to the arrival of district elections.

In District 1, current City Council members Laura Hoffmeister and Ron Leone square off against each other and political newcomer Judith Herman. In District 3, Planning Commission chair Dominic Aliano is facing Bike Concord enthusiast Kenji Yamada in the newly formed Monument area district.

Tim McGallian is running unopposed for the District 5 slot. He was appointed to the council two years ago when Tim Grayson was elected to the State Assembly.

City treasurer Patti Barsotti is also running unopposed for a four-year term.

Focusing on downtown

Leone, who ran unsuccessfully for county Superintendent of Schools in June, had said publicly that he was not going to run. But he then said candidly: “I changed my mind.”

He says there is too much “unfinished business” in front of the council that he is involved in, and he wants to help move it along.

“It’s unfortunate that with districts I have to run against another council member, but someone has to win and someone has to lose,” he says.

One of his major goals has been the revitalization of the downtown around Todos Santos Plaza, especially making sure it retains an early California flavor. He was instrumental in obtaining the statue of Don Salvio Pacheco that stands at the southeast entrance to the plaza.

But his work reflects more than that. He and former Councilman Tim Grayson “convened committees to ensure that the look in and around downtown was inviting, walkable and convenient to transit users. Now I see building going up that does not reflect our vision,” he says. “I want to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

He also is interested in a new soccer stadium/hotel complex that Mark Hall is proposing near the downtown BART station. “That will change the flavor of downtown,” Leone says. “I want to make sure that happens right.”

A political powerhouse and a newcomer

Hoffmeister’s 20 years on the council have made her an unofficial encyclopedia of the city’s issues. She doesn’t believe the change to district elections will impact her campaign.

“For me, districts allow the elected representative to focus a bit more in a geographic area,” she says. “I grew up and went to elementary and middle schools here and graduated from Concord High School. I have lived in the district over 50 years, so I know the area very well and many of its residents and businesses. The residents know they have a person that is from their area that they can connect with.”

Herman is well aware of the battle she has by facing two sitting council members. “It is indeed a challenge,” she says. “Moving from citywide elections to a district election gives me the opportunity to run a grassroots campaign, without corporate donations. Voters are going to see that as a plus. I am going to have a chance to meet many district voters, my neighbors.”

She says she is well-qualified to represent the district, which includes the area between Willow Pass and Bailey roads, down to Clayton Road.

“I have canvassed for better jobs, affordable housing and open space in the Concord Naval Weapons Station. I walked precincts for candidates I believe in,” she says. “I was president of the Pine Hollow Middle School PTA. When I first moved to Concord, I served on the Status of Women Committee.”

Herman has lived in Concord for 28 years, raising her children here. “My list of activities is less important than my commitment to doing what is best for all of Concord’s residents, especially those from District 1,” she notes.

District vs. city needs

The Pioneer asked the three District 1 candidates how they would meet the needs of their area if they differ from the needs of the city.

“District residents travel to or through other districts and there are issues in other areas that they may be concerned about, and likely vice versa,” Hoffmeister says.

But she says ultimately all residents must learn to work together. “Districts are small sections of Concord. However, we need all the parts working well together to be a whole complete community – a ‘one Concord.’ ”

Leone said he would do the same sort of planning for District 1 as he did for the city as a whole. “It was with my leadership on the council that helped our city’s historic downtown district become more vibrant, with the arches, Don Salvio Pacheco statue, early Californian architecture, more restaurants, more walkable and bike friendly.”

Herman says her job would be to represent the interests of District 1 at the council level. “But, decisions made by the City Council must include the needs of all the residents of Concord,” she says. “When a decision is going to impact the residents of District 1 more than other districts, I expect other council members would hear me out. I would do the same for them. If everyone is keeping the whole community in mind, as well as the wishes of the parts, a City Council elected by districts should work for the entire city.”

Lack of Monument ­candidates

With District 3, the city crafted boundaries that included most of the Monument area – with its large percentage of Latinos and other under-represented minorities. Yet no one from the community stepped forward to run. Both Aliano and Yamada moved to the district to run for the seat.

“While it is good that someone wants to run for the council seat, where are the homegrown leaders or long-term residents from the Monument?” asks George Fulmore, an unofficial representative of the district who often speaks to the council about issues facing the Monument area.

Aliano and Yamada differ a bit in how they said they will represent the district, but both said they would put the Monument first.

“I will always make policy decisions that I feel will benefit the city of Concord all together, but there will be moments when my constituency wants something different from the rest of Concord,” says Aliano. “In times like these, I will be making policy decisions that are wanted by the residents of District 3. They are electing an individual to represent their needs and if elected, those are the people that I am serving.”

Yamada acknowledged that the needs of the Monument community differ from those of the rest of the city, mostly regarding the availability of certain resources and the prevalence of certain issues.

“None of the issues that face us in the Monument community are unique to this part of the city, although some of them are more concentrated here,” he says.

“My approach to resolving any conflicts of priority will be to prioritize what is necessary for people’s basic safety and well-being – without leaving any people out of that calculation. It will not always be clear in every situation what choice best meets that criterion. We will discuss situations as a community. And as a council member, I will listen very carefully to every point of view and try to find a way forward that respects all needs. But it is crucial to be clear what the basic principles are, to make coherent decisions and not just react.”

In the next issue, the Pioneer will look at how all the candidates stand on specific issues.