January 6, 2006

Commentary:

December 16 — A Day of Shame in Chula Vista

By Peter J. Watry, Jr.

Some 224 years ago, in July of 1776, some brash American colonists had the nerve to declare their independence from being a British colony and instead they were going to govern themselves by ELECTING their leaders. No king, no emperor, no czar in America — henceforth, Americans would elect their representatives.

On December 16, 2005, in the Chula Vista Council Chambers, the four members of our City Council took it upon themselves to deliberately and knowingly impose their judgment over Chula Vista voters as to who should occupy Council Seat #1 for the next nine years.

The situation was this: Councilwoman Patty Davis had been forced by ill health to resign her Council Seat #1. She was to be termed out next year anyway, so Seat #1 was an “open seat” for next June’s primary election. Already at least three candidates had declared their candidacy for that open seat and had begun their campaigns.

Meanwhile, the Council had to appoint someone to finish out Ms. Davis’ term. The last time this happened, about 10 years ago, the Council had made it clear that they would only appoint someone who promised not to run as the “incumbent.” Scott Alevy made such a promise, was appointed to the vacancy, and kept his word. Thus the ensuing election was an open and fair election. Now by law the Council cannot force the appointee to refrain from running, but they can use such a promise in making their selection — which they did.

I wrote a letter to the Council members on October 13, before Ms. Davis had resigned, anticipating that she might and urging the Council to again select someone who would promise not to use the appointment as a “free ride” to running as an incumbent in next June’s primary. This is important because a Chula Vista incumbent HAS NOT LOST AN ELECTION SINCE 1968 — 37 years ago. Councilman Rindone responded by sending me a letter confirming that “I would wholeheartedly agree with you that the successor must promise not to run in the forthcoming election thereby ensuring that it would remain a free and open election. I totally agree with you that civic leaders ought to be elected by the people rather than be appointed by the elite!”

When Ms. Davis did resign on December 7, I immediately sent a copy of the same letter to the Councilmen. Councilman Castaneda responded by stating at a Council meeting two days later that “I feel very strong that the people of Chula Vista should decide who their representative is for a full four-year term... I feel very strongly that the people of Chula Vista should pick their representatives, not this City Council.”

I also made a plea at the Oral Communications portion of the December 13 Council meeting that the Council appoint someone from those who promise not to use it as a free ride.

Eventually 19 people applied for the appointment. Several people, including one of the three finalists, promised not to run in the June primary — they would serve out the final year of Ms. Davis’ term, but not use it to run as the “incumbent.”

Yet, on December 16, the Council, all four of them, selected an applicant who made it quite clear that she would run as the incumbent if she wanted to. If the history of the past 37 years holds, she will now be the Councilwoman of Seat #1 for the next nine years without ever having walked a precinct, without spending a penny, without getting a single vote from the Chula Vista electorate.

The great irony, of course, is that December 16 was also the day that the people of Iraq were voting for their representatives for the first time in their 6,000 years of history! On that historic day, in Chula Vista, U.S.A., our Councilmen were using their power to deny the voters of Chula Vista the right to choose the successor to Councilwoman Davis.

In terms of the most basic and treasured right of American citizens, our City Council has brought great shame to Chula Vista. Knowingly and deliberately, the Council ensured the appointee’s re-election and thereby took away the voters right to choose Ms. Davis’ successor in a fair and open election. Shame on Steve Padilla, John McCann, Jerry Rindone and Steve Castaneda — their shame is Chula Vista’s shame.

Peter Watry is a resident of Chula Vista.

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