By Jeremy Ogul
The results of the Nov. 4 election are in, and the dais at City Hall will look quite different when the winners are sworn in on Dec. 9.
Gone will be Mayor Art Madrid, who was first elected to the City Council in 1981 and was first elected mayor in 1990. And gone will be Ernie Ewin, who has similarly been a fixture as a City Councilmember over two non-consecutive periods totaling 18 years.
In Madrid’s place will be current City Councilmember Mark Arapostathis, who defeated Madrid with a vote split just shy of 60 to 40 percent, according to the latest unofficial count posted by the county Registrar of Voters on Nov. 25.
Candidates Bill Baber and Guy McWhirter took 27.65 percent and 22.9 percent, respectively, winning them the two vacant councilmember seats. Mary England, Patrick Dean and Pete Gregorovic took 19.96 percent, 17.12 percent and 12.36 percent of the vote, respectively.
Baber said that while he was pleased to come out on top, he recognizes that 28 percent is hardly a mandate.
“It means I’m the best looking dog in the ugly dog contest,” he joked.
The especially competitive race broke local campaign fundraising records and generated a bit of unpleasant mudslinging among the candidates’ supporters, especially in the final days before the election.
After it was over, however, Pete Gregorovic and Patrick Dean called Baber and McWhirter to concede the race and wish them the best.
“I thought that was very gracious of them and showed La Mesa is a good community, and it’s not just raw politics,” he said.
McWhirter, who has never before held elected public office, said he did not anticipate the campaign would be as challenging as it was.
“I worked my tail off,” he said. “I’ve never worked this hard for anything in my life.”
McWhirter said he expects the new council to work well together.
“We have similar goals,” he said. “Not only do we respect each other, we like each other.”
That’s not to say there won’t be conflict.
“We are going to disagree — I guarantee it.”
McWhirter said he was not fazed by criticism by some that he was unfit for the job.
“I’m not new to politics,” he said. “I’ve done all the political things; I just haven’t been a politician.”
A three-year stint on the Planning Commission in the 1980s gave him some insight into city issues, and leadership positions with the Red Cross, the San Diego Blood Bank, the Boy Scouts of America and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have all given him invaluable experience, he said
Of course, McWhirter also has experience as the owner of an insurance agency, which he said really sets him apart from the rest of the council.
“I’ve had to work with budgets, worker’s comp, insurance, taxation,” he said.
With two City Council terms already under his belt, Arapostathis already knew the issues and the campaign trail well, but he spent even more time meeting with voters in his campaign for mayor, he said.
Most voters’ concerns are universal, he said. Almost everyone is worried about crime and traffic, but during the time he spent meeting with people in various neighborhoods, Arapostathis said he was also struck by how different the specific concerns are in particular neighborhoods.
“The wants and needs of people in north La Mesa are different from those down in the village,” he said.
While residents near the downtown village were concerned about the streetscape project and the tree selection, for example, residents north of Interstate 8 were especially concerned about drivers speeding down neighborhood streets.
Arapostathis said he would like to encourage citizens to get to know all the councilmembers and not simply focus all of their attention on the mayor.
“The citizens need to know that, yes, the mayor has other responsibilities but no extra authority.”
Arapostathis said he will continue to work his day job as director of the Theater Arts department at La Mesa Arts Academy, but he will meet daily with City Manager Dave Witt to take care of city business as it happens.
With the election behind them, Arapostathis, Baber and McWhirter now face an even bigger challenge along with sitting councilmembers Ruth Sterling and Kristine Alessio: keeping the city on the right track and financially healthy while also maintaining what people love about La Mesa.
—Reach Jeremy Ogul at email@example.com.