(4/18/10) Editorial – Post-Election, 2010

This editorial is the opinion of Bill Coburn, publisher of Sierra Madre News Net and 15 year Sierra Madre resident.  It is not intended to reflect the views of any other person or entity with whom I am associated.

Okay, it’s been a couple days.  Frankly, I think what I posted on my blog more or less said it all:  Yes, Yes and YES!  Congratulations to our next Mayor, Joe Mosca, and to new council members Josh Moran and Nancy Walsh. The good people of Sierra Madre have spoken, and I think what they’ve said is: Enough is Enough!

Thirty-nine words pretty much covered it.  But I’ve had people contacting me asking when I was going to put my take on the election up on the website.  As I said, I thought I did.  But one of the people in particular who contacted me, a long-time resident (for whom I have a great deal of respect) that no longer lives in town, e-mailed me that she was “eager to see your election report.”  And the more I thought about it, I realized, if anybody can turn 39 words into 2,000, it’s me, and if that’s what people want, I’m okay with that.  Besides, in a year and a half, and then again in three and a half, as the election year campaigns pick up, I may want something a little more detailed to refer back to than the thirty-nine words I’ve already posted. 

Add to that the fact that my silence was not matched by the other guy in town that writes more than he should, and I decided to put a couple things down to say what I think about the election.

Obviously, I’m happy with the outcome, having endorsed the three candidates that will be seated on the council a week from this coming Tuesday night.  Last Tuesday, when people asked me what I predicted the outcome would be, I told them frankly that I didn’t have a clue.  I was concerned, in fact.  While I don’t think I told anybody this specifically, I kind of thought that we were going to see Mosca, Crawford and Watts seated, though I did think it possible that I might be underestimating the power of Josh’s having grown up here in town. 

But I had another underlying feeling that made me a little more hopeful.  I’ve heard the last couple of elections that there’s a silent majority in town, folks who don’t necessarily get out and beat the drums, but a majority that includes people whose opinions are respected and who have some influence with their fellow residents.  It was my feeling that those folks had been a little complacent the last couple elections, and I kind of had a feeling that the tone of this campaign had been such that these folks might just have been roused out of their  complacency, and that we might just see their influence in the outcome.  I think I mentioned this to a couple of people.  But I think most people that I talked about it with, I expressed concern, because I really thought there was a good possibility that Maryann, Don and John were going to have a majority for the next two, if not four years, and I frankly thought we’d be better off if that didn’t happen.  And even though I had the underlying hope I discussed earlier, I was afraid I’d jinx it by actually expecting it.

In 1974, Garry Trudeau and Doonesbury were at the height of their popularity.  During this time frame, there were a series of cartoons in which blocks were being added to a wall in front of the White House, with the block wall eventually completely obscuring the White House.  After Nixon resigned, if I remember correctly, the cartoon showed the White House, wall removed, with birds flying by, a rainbow, sun shining, a brand new day.  I feel like that’s how many Sierra Madreans felt Wednesday, based on my conversations with people.  And before the critics start posting, no, I’m not saying a City Council election was comparable to the President of the most powerful country in the world resigning, I’m saying the feelings some people had Wednesday reminded me of feelings people might have had in 1974, as represented in a comic strip. See the difference?

Why did the election go the way it went? 

I think there were a few reasons.  First of all, I think the winners deserved to win.  I think there are a lot of people in town who have respect for Mosca, Moran and Walsh.  Even though Joe pissed some people off in town right after he was elected, there ARE some people in town who have actually gotten over it.  They recognize Joe for who he is, a hard working, good guy, who really likes this town and wants to give back.  Josh grew up here, and has a lot of family, and that familiarity coupled with the support group that is his family and friends, had a substantial influence. He also has worked for the City, and volunteered for several years on commissions and committees.  Nancy is not as well known, but she has been a volunteer in this town for a few years, sitting on and chairing the Senior Community Commission.  And while I don’t know if she would have won the seat running individually, she was aligned with a slate that, it turns out, had the most support.

Secondly, I think that people didn’t like seeing people they perceive as good people, as givers, people who volunteer and work hard for the community, being maligned in the manner that they were.  The derisive comments on Crawford’s blog were a little too much for some people.  Calling Nancy “What’s her name”, turning Josh’s surname into moron instead of Moran, and the out and out verbal attacks on Joe, just weren’t smart moves when you’re trying to get people to support you.  And I’m not saying that John Crawford did those things, for the most part it was his supporters that did it.  As I said in one of my editorials, you’re judged by the company you keep, and I think (actually I know) people judged John by the things his supporters said.  But it wasn’t just people judging John by the company he keeps.  I think a lot of people didn’t want to align THEMSELVES with the people that were supporting John in that manner, they didn’t want people judging THEM as people that were willing to act in the manner that some (not all) of John’s supporters were acting.

Which brings me to a tactical mistake that I think was a major contributor to the Crawford/Alcorn/Watts slate losing the election.  John should not have campaigned as a blog.  I know that if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to editorialize in the way that I did.  First of all, much of the opinion on his site, even in the articles he posts, are actually other people’s opinions, supplemented by his own.  A lot of John’s articles cite other blogs, paragraphs at a time of his articles are pulled directly from other websites, blogs or print media, and then he throws in a few lines of why he thinks the people are right (or wrong).  Secondly, John’s careful to use implication and conjecture as tools, and that leads to much of what he is criticized for.  He doesn’t come out and attack people anywhere near as much as he is accused of doing it.  He’ll frequently say things that will incite others to post things.  He’s kind of like a shock jock, to a degree.  He says things for a reaction, and his supporters are generally willing to oblige.  And it was those posts by his supporters, sometimes in reaction to John’s articles, sometimes not, that I think really hurt John with voters.

Another thing that hurt the C/A/W camp was unsubstantiated allegations.  To hear that Mosca was in the back pocket of the developers and just dancing at the ends of the strings of Sacramento’s marionettists, that Josh was a puppet of the real estate industry out to enrich his real estate industry family members, that Nancy was handpicked by John Buchanan to further his pro-development agenda, and that all three candidates, were, along with Buchanan, pro-development fiends, without anything anywhere to back it up, I think, left a sour taste in some folks mouth.  It just didn’t ring true.  All of the candidates made it quite clear that they were against four-story buildings downtown, yet we still kept hearing that that’s what we were going to get if we elected them into office. 

I think that the Mayor’s letter asking residents to elect the C/A/W slate to help her stay the course and move forward her agenda, backfired.  And while there were some who perceived it as problematic on its own merits, it became a bigger problem after the City Council meeting of March 23rd.  There were many people who felt the Mayor bullied Joe to further her own political agenda at that meeting, and who felt that if this was the course that was going to be stayed, it might be better to set sail in another direction.  I sent a letter to the editor of the Mountain Views News about that meeting, but never discussed that meeting on my site, I don’t think.  So for those who didn’t read my letter, here’s my take:  The Mayor has to walk a fine line between allowing people their right to free speech, and ensuring that meetings don’t get out of hand due to personal attacks.  It’s a difficult task, and in this case, I think only one person really crossed that line.  And I think she REALLY crossed that line.  I think Mr. Mosca should have yielded the floor when asked to do so, and the Mayor was right to gavel him down and warn him that he might be removed if he didn’t respond to her requests for order.  That said, I think that if I were Mr. Mosca, I’d have done the same thing he did, as I think the Mayor should have been more pro-active in limiting that speaker’s attack, and I think she also should have allowed Mosca to speak with the City Attorney to determine if he had the right to respond, even though Public Comment is generally a one way conversation. If I felt I had a legal right to respond to someone I felt was personally attacking me verbally, and that right was being taken from me, I’d have been vocal about it too. 

But that’s just my take.  Even though I think the Mayor was within her rights to gavel over Mr. Mosca and to threaten him with removal from the Chambers, there were many people who didn’t feel that way.  And I think it’s highly ironic that after numerous calls on the Tattler and at City Council meetings by people that supported Crawford’s candidacy for more regular replays of the Council meetings on Channel 3, it was, to a degree, repeated replays of the Mayor’s actions that contributed to some folks choosing to vote against his slate.  And I know that it happened, I’ve had people tell me that it changed their vote.  I had one person, a senior, tell me that she would NEVER vote for anyone that Mayor MacGillivray told her she should vote for.

How did John Crawford get 1,000 votes?  Well, actually, it’s probably not surprising.  I was of the opinion that Crawford “won” the candidate forum sponsored by the Chamber.  Why?  Because for a lot of people, that was their first exposure to him, and the people who’d heard from his critics how awful he was were most likely favorably impressed when he came off as quite reasonable at that forum.  And I think that many of the people that voted for him were people who’s homes he visited during the campaign, and who heard him say that he was responsible for the eminent domain being on the ballot, and who were told that thanks to him, there was an ordinance in place that was going to bring the Skilled Nursing Facility folks to justice for allowing their property to go downhill while it sits empty.  Both of these are issues that resonated with folks in town, but many of these people had no idea what was happening on his blog.  I think Crawford’s vote tally would have been significantly lower if more people perceived him as the blogger, and fewer as the guy who helped make SNF and ED issues in this campaign.  Credit where credit is due, though, he was instrumental on both these issues.

I was glad to see that Pat Alcorn fared well, even though she didn’t win a seat on the Council.  She conducted herself with class, was knowledgeable on the issues, and frankly, might have done even better had she not been part of a slate which I believe dragged her down.  Of the non-winning candidates, she was behind only Don Watts, the incumbent, and by fewer than 150 votes.  Incumbents generally have a distinct advantage due to name recognition, and Pat was right there with him.  And I think she did a great job on that mailer we received days before the election.  It would be nice to see something like that come out from sitting Council members a couple times a year, as Pat told me she planned to do if she had been elected.

Where do we go from here?

Well, I think Joe’s going to be mayor.  I’m curious as to whether the Mayor will nominate him.  It would be a good political move for her to say, since she will still have the gavel, that she recognizes the will of the people, that in the spirit of reconciliation, she congratulates him and the new council members on their win, and that in that spirit, she hereby nominates him.  Some people with whom I’ve spoken about this just can’t see her doing that, saying they think it would be too much of a backpedal for her.  I really don’t know.  This would be a smart thing to do politically.  She’d be perceived as doing the right thing, even if she actually isn’t doing the right thing because it’s the right thing (who knows her motivation but her?)  But she’s a woman of convictions, and it will be interesting to see if she chooses to do the politically smart thing, or if she stands by her convictions.  I personally would like to see John Buchanan have the opportunity to nominate his friend.  But we’ll find that out in a couple weeks.

Crawford has, after a one day hiatus, brought the Tattler back, and has a “seriously, is there anything left to lose” attitude.  He’s continuing to see things in his own unique way.  For instance, his first day back, an article that said: “But when it came to the City Council, Sierra Madre voters soundly rejected the Tattler style – snarky, funny, eloquent, nasty – by giving the Tattler’s author, John Crawford, the least votes of any major candidate.” generated this headline: “The Pasadena Star News Praises the Tattler.”  Not how I think most people would have interpreted those words.

On election night, I heard one of the folks who will be sitting on the Council for the next four years telling someone that the Council’s job now is to bring Mayor MacGillivray back into the fold.  In essence, this person said that rather than ostracize or criticize her, the Council needs to be inclusive, because if they can get her working WITH them, the council can only get even more accomplished.  Of course, the other side of the coin on that is that if Ms. MacGillivray chooses not to work collaboratively with the other members of the Council when they have attempted to work with her, it will reflect poorly on her.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that four years from now, we’re not going to see 4-story buildings on Sierra Madre Blvd., or Baldwin.  There won’t be a Walmart where the Skilled Nursing Facility is, we won’t have a MacDonald’s or a Jack in the Box, and we won’t have a stoplight either, barring a tragic accident that makes the City (and its residents) look at things with a different perspective.  In short, I don’t think that the catastrophes predicted to happen if Mosca, Moran and Walsh get elected are going to happen.  I think Sierra Madre will be pretty much the same as it is now.

But I hope there’s one change, and it’s going to take a lot of effort from both sides, which frankly, I don’t see happening.  But I’ll hope for it anyway.  Let’s tone down the rhetoric.  Let’s try to stick to the facts.  Let’s try to treat each other like we’re ALL worthy of respect (even if you don’t think so, TRY).  Let’s be a village. 

While there’s a lot of talk about the Tattler and the fact that even after being more or less rebuked by the residents of this town it’s come back out swinging, I’m also a little disappointed in the Weekly.  In my opinion, the Sierra Madre Weekly has, in its election coverage, taken some unnecessary potshots.  I think some of their election news coverage read like Opinion pieces.  News coverage should be fact based coverage, Opinion should be clearly marked as Editorial.  It’s one thing if opinion is offered in a columnist’s column, an editorial (marked editorial), or an Op-ed commentary (marked Op-ed).  But when it is written into what should be “Just the Facts” news coverage, you’re crossing a line.  And much of what I read in the paper this week wasn’t categorized as Opinion or Editorial, and could easily have been perceived as being news reporting, yet it was full of opinion.  And frankly, some of the opinions in this week’s paper, to my mind, lacked the civility and respect that the candidates (and the paper itself) have been calling for as we approached the election.  So here’s hoping that the Weekly will swing its pendulum back to its pre-election news approach.

Now I know I’m going to take some hits from people who will say that they feel it’s hypocritical for me to call for toning down the rhetoric and treating people with more respect, when, they will say, I was one of the people that was smearing their candidate.  All I can say is go back and read my editorials again.  The harshest thing I said was that statements that were being made were inaccurate, and that two of the candidates had, in my opinion misled voters.  I don’t consider that smearing.  You may, but I don’t.

And if you do, you’re entitled to your opinion.  But in this case, and I’m not saying I agree with you, your opinion is about something that you perceived to have happened in the past.  It’s okay if we disagree, different people perceive things in different ways, that’s life.  I’m hoping that, as we move forward, we can try to be a little nicer to each other, even as we disagree.  I will try.  Will you?

Okay, I was wrong.  I can turn thirty-nine words into thirty-two hundred, not two thousand…