October 11, 2002

There is Something About Mary

By Paola Hornbuckle

Mayoral candidate Mary Salas’ winning personality, genuine concern for people, and savvy business sense inspires devotion in those who know her and they work night and day to help get her elected. She may well be on her way to becoming the next mayor of Chula Vista in the November mayoral elections, to the joy of all who support her. What is it about Mary that attracts such a following?

Mary Salas does not seem like the type of person who climbed her way to the top, or even barely glimpsed at the top before she got there. Instead, she seems to be the kind of person who was swept to the top by the strong currents of people surrounding her at each new level due to the positively magnetic and benevolent effect she has on those around her. Her rapid rise on the political scene and strong popularity sometimes seems to take even Mary, herself, by surprise as she stops to take a breath amidst the flurry of activity that is the Chula Vista mayoral elections.

“I have a knack for creative problem-solving,” says Mary Salas, “to see different approaches to problems. I am successful in getting people motivated and organized and getting projects accomplished.”

“Mary is very honest and a person with more integrity than you know,” asserts Marissa Gaucin, a volunteer in her electoral campaign.

For the first half of her life, there was nothing to indicate that Mary would lead a political career. She was focused on motherhood not a profession and concentrated on raising her two daughters. She did not go to college until she turned 37.

“I always talked to my children about the value of education, so I felt I had to go to college to lead by example,” she explains.

Mary majored in social work, but the lack of jobs in that field after graduation led her to take a job with the Employment Development Department (EDD). After two years she was sent to the California Trade and Commerce Agency for training, but that exposure led to a full-time job lasting seven years. Her area of specialization was Economic Development and she worked for the betterment of Orange, San Diego, and Imperial Beach counties. Her experience in Economic Development is invaluable to her, as she acquired a strong knowledge of how to attract high quality companies to areas in need of economic revitalization, a skill she plans to put to full-force in Chula Vista if she is elected mayor.

“I know what benefits to offer companies, what not to offer, what companies don’t need assistance, and what companies you don’t want. We don’t want to attract companies that provide low-end jobs. We are running out of land for housing and businesses, so that land we do have we need to set aside for companies that have a higher value,” said Mary.

Mary is known for her expertise at working with communities to help companies move into an area. She knows how to attract projects and how to retain them. When a company is ready to expand she helps them get access to all of the California type of programs and benefits they are entitled to and how to cut through the bureaucratic red tape for speedy results.

She came up with the ingenious idea of creating a Saturday Japanese language school in Chula Vista to attract high profile Japanese firms to the area.

A key concern of Japanese employees is the availability of Japanese language schools for their children. The loss of skills in the incredibly difficult and complex Japanese written language can result in academic failure when those students go back to the extremely demanding schools in Japan. The presence of the language schools was a clinching factor in bringing the Japanese company Hitachi to the area. Following Mary’s lead, the Otay Mesa Changer of Commerce is now looking into implementing similar programs.

Still, for all of her pro-business vision, she tries never to sacrifice the good of the community if certain aspects of various projects do not have the best interest of the community at heart. Her loyalty is to the people of Chula Vista, all of them.

Mary’s deep-rooted love for Chula Vista has a long history, as both sides of her family tree settled in this area in the early and mid-twentieth century. Her grandfather on her paternal side migrated in 1918 from Jalisco, Mexico and moved to the Salt-Lakes area in downtown Chula Vista.

Her mother’s family moved to Chula Vista in 1948 after an initial stay in Arizona where her grandfather worked as a miner and ranch farmer for Libby’s Company. Among the many relatives that came from the two sides of her family the one she particularly admires is her Uncle Joseph Casillas.

Her Uncle was partially disabled in World War II and received the Medal of Honor for his performance during the infamous Battle of the Bulge. A German prisoner of war, he was the first member of the family to go to college on the G.I. Bill. Joseph Casillas Elementary School is named after him. Her father also fought in World War II, and later served as a civil servant on North Island. Her mother was a stay at home mom, who developed and artistic skill with paintings and wood carvings that delight all who glimpse at them and fill the walls of Mary’s home.

Mary Salas has served as a Chula Vista City Councilwoman since 1996. Prior to her election, Salas served on the Chula Vista Civil Service Commission from 1991-1993. Subsequently, she was appointed to the Commission and served until her election in 1996.

After graduating with honors from San Diego State and working as an Economic Development Specialist with the California Trade and Commerce Agency, she has worked as a public servant in various capacities. She served on the Police Activities League, the Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, and is employed by the Community Health Group in Chula Vista, serving as Corporate Communications Director. She also serves as Vice-President of the South Bay Economics Development Council, and works with numerous community organizations and foundations endlessly.

“I realized through my work that the way you make change in not one on one social work, but on a policy level. Once I joined the City Council it felt right. The work became part of me. Being out there, talking to people, being part of the community was so comfortable to me,” enthused Salas.

If elected mayor she will face some tough issues, among them traffic and rapid growth in Chula Vista, economic disparity between East and West, how to revitalize the downtown areas, how to encourage greater minority representation in local government and city contracting, bringing a major university to Chula Vista, and public safety just to name a few.


Along with fast tracking the building of Olympic Highway and interchange improvements at H/I-805, Mary feels a key to reducing traffic congestion is to bring the high paying jobs to Chula Vista by attracting high-quality companies to the area, one of her area of expertise.

East vs. West?

The fear that the east side of Chula Vista is overdeveloping and the west side will be left behind is a concern with many Chula Vistans. Mary has walked the streets of the west and the east sides and has become familiar with perspectives and concerns on both sides.

“When I talk to people on the east side I notice they have little connection to the west and no reason to go there. How do you create venues that bring people together?” She supports the building of a Cultural Arts Center in downtown Chula Vista to bring the entire community together. It will be a venue for different community groups to celebrate the great cultural diversity Chula Vista is famous for. Until then she has managed to attract the prestigious San Diego Junior Theatre to open up a site in downtown Chula Vista to celebrate and teach the arts to children of all ages. She has met with city managers and selected several sites to purchase and reserve for park spaces in the West side.

Great Ethnic Diversity, but Worrisome Economic Disparity

“We need to get a group of people on the human relations commission that can address some of the problems that I see growing in Chula Vista. Not so much ethic based but income based,” explained Mary. “Because we are such a fully integrated community, we are lucky enough to have great relations and understanding between the ethnic groups because they are our neighbors. That is so important, kids going to school together, people working side by side in business. In that way fear and prejudice drops in a racial manner, but I’m starting to see income based disparity and isolation and we have to address that.

“People need to understand that we are a whole community and we are in this together. If any part of the society fails or is less successful it affects all of us. You can see the example of Mexico where such a disparity in the social classes has really led to a dysfunctional society. We can’t have that happen here in Chula Vista,” said Mary.

Mary works closely with the Family Resource Centers and Neighborhood Council Initiatives to help non-English speakers learn English, to integrate them in American society, to help their children with their English language problems in school, and to guide them and offer a supportive environment. “More groups like that are going to be the key to integrating them into the mainstream,” she said.

What About Minority Representation at the Higher Levels?

In the upper management of her staff there is no minority representation. “That is absolutely true, except for one female. In Mid-management we are woefully underrepresented and although we have mentorship programs where senior staff members work with minority employers to get the adequate department training to achieve promotions that truth is we have had only a few openings at the director level since I’ve been on the city council.

We have also had very few minority responses in the applications. We need to get our students prepared for the majors they need to have to get into the civil government on the public sector. They should study land planning, civil engineering, and public administration. We have a great deal of minorities in public works but they are primarily in manual labor. We have to prepare students for professional jobs,” said Mary.

Bringing a Major University to Chula Vista

Mary acknowledges that having a University of California site on Chula Vista would be great but not realistic as there are no plans for that any time soon. “A more viable alternative is to work with San Diego State to bring a SDSU satellite to Chula Vista and growing it into a bigger school like it did in San Marcos. Having a SDSU or CSU site would also meet the needs of children in this area better in part because they are more affordable. You know, you can’t get into SDSU without a 3.4 GPA. Minority groups say they are getting aced out, but everyone is. Instead of saying we want a bigger piece of the pie, you have to say we need a bigger pie. We definitely need more college campuses all over the state. We have the same amount of university space but double the population,” she explained.

More Minority Contracting

“We do have a lot of contracts with minority business, but we have to do a better job. As councilwoman I allocated $10,000 to go to Southwestern Campus to the Small

Business Contracting Center and I work with the city manager and purchasing department manager to come up with a partnership with SWC so they work hand in hand with small business groups. On some of our bigger bids the city has a habit of using the same companies over and over again because they are familiar with their work and know how they operate. Still, we need to do better,” said Mary.

Police Review Board

There was a demand for a police review board. We put together a task force to look into it. We found that the city of Chula Vista has very good relationship between police and citizens, and in surveys police receive very high marks for their quality of service and interaction with citizens. That is not to say that there have not been some instances in which people made some complaints, and they found that complaint process very difficult to access. So the report that came from this task force was that they felt it would be better to have an advisory group instead of a police review group, and that it would make sure that all complaints were handled in a timely manner,” she said.

Those are some of the many issues Councilwoman Mary Salas has had to address and the list goes on and on. Faithfully she works nonstop in an effort to reach all sections of her community. She seems to be always thinking, searching, and questioning different ways, new issues, and better strategies for solving public problems.

Energized by the enthusiasm of her volunteers and many supporters, she looks hopefully toward the future, a future that offers her a chance to serve at a higher level, to confront new problems and challenges with her characteristic honesty, gentle confidence, and strong leadership skills. On September 11, Mary Salas attended many functions, but a member of the audience in particular remembers one.

“She came to speak at Eastlake Church. I felt moved by her admiration of war veterans and the sacrifices that the military has made especially in this last year. She is very soft spoken and gentle. But she is smart. And you can tell she really cares, “ said Captain Scott Kier, United States Marine Corps.

Return to the Frontpage