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Oceanside Votes On A Mayor and Two City Councilmembers

Aired 11/2/12 on KPBS News.

The race for the mayor of Oceanside is not as high profile as the San Diego Mayor’s race, but it also presents voters with a stark choice. However the power of the mayor will depend on who wins the two city council seats on the ballot.

Oceanside is San Diego County’s third largest city, but it is not above using old time, small town tactics to get people to come to mayoral debates.

Oceanside mayoral candidates: Mayor Jim Wood, City Councilman Jerry Kern and former Mayor, Terry Johnson.
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Above: Oceanside mayoral candidates: Mayor Jim Wood, City Councilman Jerry Kern and former Mayor, Terry Johnson.

“You’ve all been invited to enjoy pizza and lemonade, courtesy of Mayor Jim Wood and Jerry Kern,” the moderator told the audience that filled a small auditorium at MiraCosta College.

Mayor Jim Wood and city councilman Jerry Kern shared the costs of the pizza, and maybe one other thing: a desire to attract more business and jobs to Oceanside.

“Oceanside was considered a crime-ridden military town.“ said Wood. “People were afraid to come here - we’ve changed that. We’ve now seen people come here, see it’s a wonderful place and that makes more business.”

But after that basic vision, Wood parts company with Kern on how to run the city: for example on whether to contract city services out to the private sector.

“I am not in favor of outsourcing,” Wood said. “I’ve been part of city government a long time and I’ve been to other cities and talked. There isn’t any improvement with outsourcing. You might save some money up front but down the road, you wont. “

Jerry Kern, on the other hand, is all for outsourcing city services, like the library.

“People have to realize we are a business, “ Kern said.“ Oceanside is in the service delivery business. We are in the middle of a recession that’s going to last another four or five years and we have to figure out how we’re going to keep our costs under control.”

Kern’s vision includes more incentives for developers; Jim Wood’s vision protects existing neighborhoods. Kern would end rent control; Wood stands behind the mobile home park dwellers, who rely on rent control.

The third candidate for mayor is hardly a new face. Terry Johnson WAS the mayor of Oceanside eight years ago, before Wood won the seat from him.

Johnson wants to restore harmony to the council.

“It wont be easy,” Johnson said at the forum. “ But it’s critical we restore civility and pride to our city government.”

Like Wood, Johnson is against outsourcing and is cautious about development.

Johnson denies that, by running as a conservative democrat in the non-partisan race, he could split the vote with moderate republican, Jim Wood. That could hand the election to the more pro-development republican, Jerry Kern.

Some suggest that would be payback for the upset eight years ago, when Wood won the mayor's seat after Rocky Chavez split the vote with Johnson, then running as a republican.

“Who’s trying to split the vote?” Johnson insists, “I’m trying to win.“

However Johnson has raised little money: just a few thousand dollars compared to nearly $40,000 raised by Wood and more than $40,000 by Kern.

Incumbent Wood knows even if he keeps the mayor’s seat, he ‘ll need two more like-minded people on the city council to manage growth and protect neighborhoods.

“I’m in the voting minority,” Wood said at the forum, “and it’s hard to get things done.”

Council races

Seven people are running for two seats on the city council.

Wood hopes to keep his ally, incumbent Esther Sanchez, and add a new face on the city council : Dana Corso of the Alliance of Citizens to Improve Oceanside Neighborhoods.

“If I’m elected,” said Corso in a debate on KOCT, Oceanside’s cable channel, “I’ll be sure that rent control stays in place for our mobile home communities, that our harbor is not outsourced, that the city listens to the people first. I want development but I want responsible development.”

But Jerry Kern hopes to win the mayor’s seat, keep his ally on the council, incumbent Jack Feller and bolster his majority with former Marine, Chip Dykes.

“We need to provide clear and consistent guidance to our citizens, to the business community. “ Dykes said in his closing statement at the KOCT forum. “We need to focus on experience and common sense, and if you vote for Chip Dykes, that’s what you’re going to get.”

Dykes and Feller, the two more pro-development candidates running for Oceanside city council, have each raised as much, if not more money than the mayoral candidates - a telling reminder that when it comes to decisions affecting the future development of Oceanside, it’s all about who has three votes on the council.

Oceanside voters will need to pay attention to the math when they fill in their ballots: the mayor has the bully pulpit, but he’s not a strong mayor like the Mayor of San Diego. He is just one vote on the five person council.

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