Local Politics

Wednesday, Aug 06 2014 09:00 PM

Ward 7 council candidate has criminal past

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    By Theo Douglas/ The Californian

    Ward 7 Bakersfield City Council candidate Matthew Braman.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

The only person so far to file nominating papers to run for the Ward 7 Bakersfield City Council seat has a criminal history that includes two misdemeanor driving under the influence convictions during the last decade.

Matthew Braman, 33, general manager of the Historic Downtowner Inn, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor drunken driving counts -- the first in 2006 in Mojave and the second in 2008 in Bakersfield, according to Kern County Superior Court records.

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Fewer than 72 hours before the 5 p.m. Friday deadline, Braman was on Wednesday the only candidate to have filed with the Bakersfield City Clerk's office.

But a potential rival emerged when business owner Chris Parlier, a retired special agent with the California Department of Justice and vice president of the Ridgeview High School Athletic Boosters Club, pulled papers.

"If I wasn't prepared to deal with it, I wouldn't have pulled papers," Braman said of his past, which he blamed on youthful mistakes from which he has learned. "There's a saying in my house, 'Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up again.' "

Braman moved back to Ward 7 earlier this summer and is running on the issues of improving public safety and increasing development. His nominating papers have not yet been certified by the Kern County elections office.

Braman's hoping to replace Councilman Russell Johnson, who is not seeking reelection because he made it into the Nov. 4 runoff for Kern County assessor-recorder.

Braman's election planks are important to Bakersfield voters -- but his DUIs and two 2001 alleged crimes that were later dismissed could prove just as interesting.

Court records show Braman, who then lived in Tehachapi, was arrested there on Sept. 16, 2006, by the California Highway Patrol on suspicion of drunken driving.

He pleaded no contest, was placed on five years probation, ordered to pay $1,940, and required to attend a three-month alcohol education program to get his driver's license back.

Less than two years later, however, Braman -- who had moved to Bakersfield to attend Cal State Bakersfield -- was arrested July 7, 2008, by the CHP downtown on suspicion of drunken driving.

He again pleaded no contest, was placed on three years probation and was ordered to pay $1,729 in fines and fees and attend an 18-month alcohol treatment and education program.

In the 2006 incident, Braman said, he visited a bar following a break-up, and drank and drove.

The second time, he and a subsequent girlfriend were celebrating Braman's earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice at CSUB, and her acceptance into a nursing program when they were pulled over.

In both instances, Braman said he was stopped near where he began driving.

"In all of these things, there's been an emotional attachment," Braman said, explaining the motivation and circumstances. "I was in college for both of them. I don't think it was a problem (with alcohol). I think it was an unfortunate byproduct of the lifestyle I put myself in."

Following his 2008 arrest, Braman said, he vowed to never misuse alcohol and endanger others again -- a promise the candidate said he has kept, receiving only one traffic ticket since for not wearing his seatbelt, but beating that in court when the arresting officer did not appear.

Braman had a more serious brush with the law in 2001 -- serving 33 days in jail, he said -- after being arrested by Burbank police on suspicion of felony grand theft auto and felony possession of a controlled substance.

In that incident, Braman said, he borrowed someone's car at a friend's house to go buy swim trunks for a pool party -- but inadvertently bumped another vehicle while parallel parking.

Police were summoned when the other driver wanted to file a police report, and Braman learned the car had been reported stolen -- a fact he said he had not known.

When police searched the car, Braman said, they found something in a baggie -- though he still doesn't know what it was.

Both crimes later were reduced to misdemeanors — the possession count before Braman pleaded, and the grand theft auto count after his initial plea. According to court records, Braman pleaded no contest to the vehicle count and guilty to the possession count. He was allowed into the Deferred Entry of Judgement program, meaning both counts were set aside upon completion of his probation, his pleas were re-entered as not guilty, and the counts were dismissed.

That's not all. Braman and his former employer, political consulting firm Western Pacific Research, are defendants in a civil lawsuit filed last week in Kern County Superior Court by Florida-based Gravis Marketing Inc.

The company alleges it was hired by WPR in October 2012 to make automated campaign calls but was not paid.

Gravis is seeking more than $14,000 in damages and attorney's fees, and a 2012 contract with WPR included with the suit names Braman as a campaign manager.

Braman said he doesn't recall managing a campaign for WPR during this time period, and said his involvement was limited to identifying the company for WPR as an entity that could be retained to make "robocalls."

No one answered telephone calls made to WPR by a reporter on Wednesday.

Braman, a married father of two, has never sought council office before -- though he is chairman of the Kern County Young Republicans.

"If there's one recurring theme in this story, it's that every time I've fallen down, I've gotten up stronger than before," Braman said. "Some voters can relate to my story. Some voters will be turned off by my story. Doesn't change the work ethic. Or my commitment to this city."

In an interview before he pulled papers to run Wednesday, Parlier said he didn't see it quite that way.

"I think anybody deserves a second chance, but again, elective office is about trust and integrity," said Parlier, 51, who also said he would focus on public safety and development in his campaign. "I feel like I'd do a good job, especially with my background, to help the city keep the crime rate down."

Former Ward 7 Councilman Mark Salvaggio, now a constituent service specialist for Kern County Supervisor David Couch, declined to comment on Braman's background. Salvaggio said he considered opposing Braman, but supports Parlier.

"I am endorsing Chris Parlier," said Salvaggio, the City Council's longest-serving member at 19 years. "He will bring independent and non-partisan leadership to the City Council, and boy do we need that in these sorry days of partisan politics."

Meanwhile, Democrats still have not found a candidate to run for the nonpartisan council seat.

"I think at this point we're still looking. It's always amazing what happens in the last 72 hours," said Nicole Villaruz, chairwoman of the Kern County Democratic Central Committee.

Asked to comment on Braman's criminal record, Villaruz said: "I think it's safe to say that in the political arena ... second chances sometimes do exist and it always depends on the severity of the charges. Something like drunken driving is not to be taken lightly, especially the way he pled and the fact there's multiple charges."

Ward 1 Councilman Willie Rivera, who's up for re-election in November, said Braman may have had his second chance.

"I think it sounds like he's had, maybe, a second, third or fourth try, but regardless, I think the voters of Ward 7 have every right to choose their representative," Rivera said, adding he is "more interested in the important issues and things we can do at the city level to move the city forward."

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