BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The field of potential candidates to replace Rudy Salas on the Bakersfield City Council after his official departure Sunday is already looking very crowded.
But how those hopefuls will vie for the job -- either through an election or by appointment -- has yet to be decided.
So far The Californian has learned of three people who plan to run for the Ward 1 seat if there's a special election and four who are still deciding.
A special election is one of two possibilities because Salas, a Democrat, was halfway through his four-year term when he won the 32nd District Assembly seat last month. (He will be sworn in Monday).
Bakersfield's charter says when six months or more are left in the term of an open seat, residents can file a petition requesting a special election. If no petition surfaces or if it doesn't have enough valid signatures, the council decides whether to hold a special election or appoint someone for the rest of the term.
Signatures from 25 percent of Ward 1 residents who voted in the 2010 general election are needed. That's 1,220 signatures, said City Clerk Roberta Gafford.
Marvin Dean, who wants to run for the vacancy, said he's formed a 1st Ward Residents Petition Committee that's already started gathering signatures.
Dean, along with Salas and four others, ran for the seat in 2010. He is president of the Kern Minority Contractors Association and often appears before the city council to talk about hiring local and minority contractors if the high-speed rail system is built through Bakersfield.
A special election isn't cheap. Gafford put the cost at about $100,000 but said if a school district or other special district that covers Ward 1 also needs a special election, the city could share the costs. The money would come from Bakersfield's general fund, as there's no funding set aside for a special election.
Still, several city council members said they favor a special election.
The 2010 race for the Ward 1 seat was one of the more crowded in recent years, and some of the same names could resurface if there is a special election.
Humberto Gomez, a retired Bakersfield high school science teacher, said he plans to run again and also join efforts to collect signatures.
"I would like to see more growth in that area," Gomez said of his ward. "Not in the sense of more buildings being erected, but in the sense of seeing that area coming up in an economic sense and social and political sense ... That's an area that seems to be a little left out from the rest of Bakersfield."
Wesley Crawford Sr. ran for the seat in 2010 and said he'll run again if his candidate of choice decides not to. That person is Stephanie Campbell, currently self-employed as a consultant and grant writer for nonprofit organizations.
Crawford is a funeral coordinator at Rucker's Mortuary and volunteer associate minister at Truelight Missionary Baptist Church in Wasco.
"Stephanie Campbell would be the perfect pick for city council," Crawford said. "Not only would she represent the African-American community, she would represent the Latino community, the rich as well as the poor."
Campbell said she's still deciding whether to run.
"I am interested, but I'm waiting to find out what the council is going to do," she said. "I don't know if voters are ready to spend money on a special election."
Were she to run, she'd focus on job growth, education and public safety, as well as eradicating blight, she said.
Two others weighing a bid are Tomeka Powell and Sean Battle.
Powell is an analyst at Community Action Partnership of Kern, a community services nonprofit agency.
"I've considered it, but I'm not 100 percent sure," she said.
Battle is executive director of Stop the Violence, a nonprofit that offers programs for at-risk kids. "I haven't completely decided yet," Battle said.
"The biggest thing that I would want to see happen is a sense of community in most of the area," Battle said about what his platform would be if he ran. "Safety, education ... economic development. In some areas of Ward 1 there are really no avenues or resources for employment."
Battle and Campbell said even if there isn't a special election, they'd support the council making an appointment.
"If they appoint, I approve of it," Campbell said. "I trust the council, and I know they have our best interests (at heart)."
Another name that's been mentioned is Andrae Gonzales, a Bakersfield City School District board member. But Gonzales said he had no plans to run.
"I'm really finding a lot of value and pride in my work on the school board," Gonzales said. "I wouldn't want to leave my commitment to the board."
Donald Vereen, director of the Bakersfield City School District's Educational Foundation, also said he will run if there's an election and wants to be considered if there's an appointment.
TIMING OF A SPECIAL ELECTION
Ward 1 residents have four weeks to collect the needed signatures to force a special election. If they do, the city has to hold the election between 90 days and six months after the seat becomes vacant.
That probably would put a special election sometime in June, said City Attorney Virginia Gennaro. Between Sunday and a special election, council members can appoint an interim representative, but they don't have to, she said.
Dean has organized a community meeting about a special election for 5:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Bakersfield Senior Center, 530 4th St. Gennaro and Gafford will be there to go over the rules for filling the seat.
COUNCIL MEMBERS' OPINIONS
Civil engineer Bob Smith and restauranteur Terry Maxwell will take their new seats on the council Dec. 11 and be part of the discussion about the Ward 1 vacancy.
"The only fair thing to the people that live in that area is to have a special election," Maxwell said, adding that he's not keen on the expense, however.
Smith also said he'd support a special election.
Longtime council members Jacquie Sullivan and Harold Hanson, both re-elected in November, said they favor having a special election.
"It's the right thing to do, to leave it up to the people in that area," Sullivan said.
Sullivan and Hanson said they want to select an interim councilman, but only if that person agrees not to run in the special election. Even a short-term incumbency could give that person an unfair advantage, they said.
"I believe it does give someone a leg up," Hanson said. "If we have four people running and we appoint one of them, I would suspect (the others) would be a little bit disturbed by that."
Hanson said at the Dec. 11 council meeting, he plans to ask staff for recommendations on how to fill the vacancy and for the council members to weigh in.
Ward 1 residents historically haven't voted as often as residents in other wards, he said, so any candidate would have to do a lot of outreach to win.
"They better be knocking on doors and making friends," he said.
Councilman Russell Johnson hasn't decided whether the city should call a special election or make an appointment.
"My take is that this is a unique situation," he said. "It's something the council as a whole needs to discuss."
But like Hanson and Sullivan, he said if the council makes an interim appointment, the appointee should be barred from running in the special election.
Councilman Ken Weir said waiting to see if the needed petition signatures surface is the next step.
"We'll see what happens there first," he said. If there isn't a valid petition, he said, he'd favor an appointment because of the expense of a special election and because special elections usually have low voter participation.
In the case of an appointment, the council would "find someone that knows the community and knows Ward 1 and is familiar with the issues there," he said.