BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's a look at the final three candidates in the six-way race for the empty Ward 1 Bakersfield City Council seat. The seat was left open when Rudy Salas stepped down to take the state Assembly seat he won last November. The council decided to hold a special election, set for June 4, to fill the remaining year and a half of Salas' council term. That gives candidates just a little over two months to make their cases to voters in Ward 1 and so far, they're not wasting any time.
For a look at the other three contenders, check out Sunday's Californian.
WARD 1 CANDIDATES
Occupation: staffer for 16th state Senate district office
Occupation: construction project consultant, retired Pacific Gas & Electric Co. lineman
Occupation: consultant and grant writer for nonprofit organizations
At 22, Willie Rivera is the youngest candidate in the race. And though he hasn't lived in Ward 1 as long as some of his competitors, he said he has been involved in Ward 1 issues as a staffer for Michael Rubio, both when Rubio was a Kern County Supervisor and when he was a state senator. Though Rubio has stepped down from the state Senate, Rivera is still manning the 16th state Senate District office and answering constituents' concerns, he said.
Rivera moved back to Bakersfield from Sacramento in December and into Ward 1 in January to buy a house.
"When I moved back down, I did not have this in mind," Rivera said of his run for the council seat. Yet, he's known for years that public service was the field he wanted to pursue, he said. "I had a lot of conversations with people who were interested in seeing me run. ... I know how to run a campaign, and most important, I knew I could do a good job."
As a staffer for Rubio, Rivera said part of his job involved bringing basic services to constituents Rubio represented, including in Ward 1.
"I love local government," Rivera said, "... To bring people what I think are the most basic but most important services." That means things like connecting Ward 1 residents with law enforcement and parks and recreation services all the way down to installing speed bumps on streets where drivers go too fast and endanger people.
"It's the basic things, even having curbs, gutters and sidewalks" in areas that lack them, an effort he worked on for areas of southeast Bakersfield when he was in Supervisor Rubio's office, he said. "Those types of things give someone a reason to care about their neighborhood."
"(Ward 1) is the only council seat I'd be interested in running for, because there's a genuine need for someone to stand up for the people who live there," Rivera said. "There's a lot more work to be done in Ward 1."
That also includes a need for more police in southeast Bakersfield, he said. The city is far short in its number of police officers, given its population, he said. "As a result of that, crime rates are higher than I think they otherwise might be." More officers would mean shorter response times, he said.
Rivera was born in Puerto Rico and moved with his family to Bakersfield in 2000.
Marvin Dean, 61, is the only one of the six Ward 1 candidates who also ran for the seat in 2010.
"I've been a community advocate for a long time," Dean said. "I believe I can do more as a council member."
One of Dean's favorite topics, especially when he appears before the City Council during the public comment period, is the state plan to build a high-speed rail system, and how Bakersfield could benefit.
That kind of effort is directly related to helping Ward 1, Dean said, especially if it means jobs for local people and minorities.
"If you put (people) to work, these people are not going to be out there committing crimes," he said. Dean is a member of the California High Speed Rail Business Advisory Council. He noted the council's recent decision to dedicate a small amount of city funds to a lawsuit in Kings County challenging the project.
"What does that look like in (the city's) dealings with the High-Speed Rail Authority?" he said. "People won't deal with us in good faith."
Instead, the council should consider the economic benefits and sales tax revenues the project could bring to the city. And as a member of the council, he said, he could help influence that process.
Dean was a visible proponent of keeping a traditionally African-American voting bloc intact in Ward 1 in 2011 when the wards underwent reapportionment. That effort was successful. He also helped push the council to hold a special election for the Ward 1 seat, by helping to organize a signature-gathering effort that would have forced the council to hold a special election. Though that effort failed because of a technicality, the council chose to hold the special election anyhow.
"Any big issues about the first ward -- I've been there, done that," he said. "Not that I wanted to, but no one else would do it."
Dean said the council seat is the only one he's interested in running for.
"It's the best job and closest to the people," he said. "That's where the rubber meets the road, in City Council."
"I know I'm the best candidate. ... None of the other candidates can touch what I've been doing."
Stephanie Campbell, 59, said what sets her apart from her competitors in the race is her long and deep involvement in Ward 1 issues.
"I have been serving for years without a title," she said. That has included helping to attract more businesses to set up shop in the ward, working with youth and encouraging redevelopment in the district, she said.
"I'm a long-time community resident, and as a business woman, (I have) an understanding of the economic structure of the southeast and how to keep it and grow it and stabilize it."
Campbell grew up in Ward 1, she said. She left for several years as an adult and went to Orange County, but returned to care for her grandmother. When she came back in 1998, "nothing had changed," she said.
"If you wanted to buy groceries, you still had to go out of the community," she said.
That also meant Ward 1 residents were shopping at small corner markets for food, without the benefit of large grocery stores and much lower prices. As a member of the city's Southeast Redevelopment Project Area Committee, Campbell was involved in a study of the problem and how residents were spending their dollars outside of the ward, rather than in it.
"It was such a huge amount; millions of dollars were being leaked out of Ward 1," she said. That didn't exactly encourage businesses to the ward, she said. But with former Councilwoman Irma Carson, Campbell and others helped attract two grocery stores to the area. Campbell said her role was carrying out the community and public relations necessary to make that happen.
Campbell said she understands the costs and pressures business owners face, but wants them to see that southeast Bakersfield is a business-friendly place. But public safety is also a concern, she added.
"People in their homes in the community ... they want to be safe (and) have their kids play in the yard, walk to the store," Campbell said.
"This is an every-day fight," Campbell said about how to combat violence. Whereas residents used to gather en masse to hash out solutions, that happens less often now, she said. Campbell wants to reinstitute those kinds of efforts, she said.
Residents have told her their concerns range from wanting more police officers to speeding drivers.
"Those are the issues that people have told me for a long time they haven't been able to talk about," Campbell said. "I tell them, you can talk to me. We can work out a solution."