Thursday, October 31, 2013
There are more mayoral candidates then those often represented in the news. KPBS takes a look at some of those also joining in the race to be mayor.
Anyone picking up a ballot for this year’s special election will notice there are 10 names from which to choose. But even for the most-informed among voters, most of those names probably won't ring a bell.
So who are these "other" candidates? In this election, they are all men, differing in age and background, but joined by dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Still, with little chance of winning, what motivates them to run?
The Young Gun
At 22, Michael Kemmer exudes a confidence that is almost brash. The San Diego State University student made a small splash when his name made the final cut of candidates. That’s because when he filed “intent to run” papers with the city clerk — papers that highlight a prospective candidates qualifications — he included what he said has become his signature phrase: “Boom Baby.”
“It started off when we were running for student government about a year and a half ago, and we got excited and started chanting it.” So now whenever Kemmer gets excited now? “I say ‘boom baby!' ” adding a fist pump for emphasis.
Kemmer is a senior who hails from Northern California, Fresno to be exact. But he fits right in on the San Diego State campus. His friends and business fraternity brothers and sisters have joined in to help run his campaign. And his campaign manager? His housemate. They are all campaigning while trying to get through sometimes heavy course loads. The impression left is that while they are taking it seriously, they're also having a lot of fun.
Kemmer, who is majoring in business and a minoring in political science, said he ran for mayor in part because he found out in one of his classes that he could.
"One of my poli-sci professors, he talked about the City Charter, and said you know, it’s pretty straight forward to get on the ballot.” That peaked Kemmer’s interest “Then he started telling us there’s random people who will be on the ballot this year, and I got a team together to see if we could be that random person.”
Kemmer has set up his campaign office in a study room in the SDSU Library. He's draped an American flag on the giant computer screen in the room. “It gives it the right vibe,” he said.
When I met with Kemmer he was tired, having spent most of the previous night cramming for midterms. Even though he’s exhausted, he seems wide awake in that way only college students can. Not only has he been studying, he is getting ready for a mayoral forum. It’s in San Ysidro, and it will be the first time Kemmer and the lesser known candidates have been invited to take the stage.
Take Us Seriously
In the darkened auditorium of San Ysidro high school a handful of people came to find out what the candidates have to say. Mike Aguirre and David Alvarez are top-four candidates who showed up. They were joined by Kemmer, Harry Dirks, a soft spoken La Jolla businessman, and the not-so-soft-spoken Hud Collins, who introduced himself by saying, “I am the only person that’s going be in this campaign that is gonna' make a lot of noise.”
Collins is well known to those familiar with City Council meetings. He speaks regularly at those meetings, often berating the council on their plans and policy. At the debate, Collins hammered home on the lack of money in the city coffers, “we have to be asking,” he said “where the money for all these projects is going to come from?”
Dirks (no relation to this reporter) expressed frustration at the lack of media interest in candidates like himself. “To be honest with you this is my first forum. I’ve been left out of several of the others as many of the candidates have; I don’t know why that is, it’s just the nature of the beast, I suppose.”
But it shouldn’t be, according to Michael Kemmer.
“Our ideas are just as valid as theirs. Right?” he asked, rhetorically. “We keep going back to the politics as usual. Kevin Faulconer was chosen for the republican candidate in a room in La Jolla. David Alvarez says he is a political outsider, but he’s been in politics for the last few years. It’s like OK, are you really? Take us seriously. Look at what we are saying,” Kemmer said.
So just what are these outsider candidates saying? Dirks said he isn’t a politician, just a responsible businessman who considers the mayor’s job like that of a CEO. He has done a good job of managing companies, he says, and he thinks the city could use some of that practical, no-nonsense experience, especially after a decade of scandals.
Collins is using the election in much the way he uses public comment at City Council — as a pulpit from which to warn the city of dire problems and internal mismanagement.
As for Kemmer, he said he’s kind of doing this as a practice run in politics; he likes uniting people around an idea. In this case, the idea is really just himself and the fact that even a 22 year old college student can run for mayor. It’s a little self-reflexive, Kemmer admits, but he hopes he can change the conversation. “Twenty percent of youth in San Diego are unemployed, and I’m the only candidate talking about that.”
The Road Tripping Restauranteur
Tucked away in a corner of a strip mall in Carmel Mountain is the Greek Corner Café, with a large wrap-around patio and pretty solid Yelp reviews.
On a late morning in October, just before the place opens for lunch, Simon Moghadam is setting up, putting the salt and pepper shakers out on the tables. The whole place smells like spiced meat and olive oil. This is Moghadam’s restaurant, the latest incarnation of the family business. He grew up working in his parent’s restaurant and now this little corner is his kingdom.
Moghadam works 80 hours a week and he said he basically lives at the restaurant, but then restaurants have always been home for him. He’s the kind of guy who is constantly talking with customers, and usually the conversation comes around to one of three things. “Politics, religion and money. Those are three taboo things" in America. “But in the rest of the world,” Moghadam said, “that’s what people talk about, and here that’s what we talk about.”
Moghadam’s family hails from the capital of Iran, Tehran. He came here when he was 12, and he said the transition was at first a hard one.
“My dad didn’t get a visa for the first five years, so my mom raising me and my brother for the first few years and it was a very very difficult life.”
He said that they dropped several rungs in the economic ladder as well. Back in Tehran they were middle class, but in San Diego they had to start over. Still he said “we did pretty good, but we did get in a lot of trouble. I remember going to Horace Mann Middle School,” he said, smiling ruefully. “I can’t remember a week I didn’t get beat up.”
But Moghadam came to love his adopted hometown of San Diego. He loves the whole country so much that his favorite pastime is road tripping across the country. He has, he said, visited every state in the nation. “I just love being on the road, getting to meet people, getting to talk to them.”
He takes local driving trips as well, often on one of the 14 motorcycles in his collection.
When he isn’t out on the road meeting people and seeing the country, he is in his café, talking with customers. And more often than that he finds himself griping about the state of his adopted city. One day one of his regular customers turned to him and asked, “So what are you going to do about it.” “Well” he said he thought to himself, “I guess I will run for mayor.”
Moghadam said that he is sick of traveling around telling people he is from San Diego, and having them laugh or, after this summer of Bob Filner scandals, tell an off-color joke. He said he is also sick of the same candidates representing the same power players controlling the political landscape, “whether it is the unions or the developers, they control who we vote for, you know?” He said he wanted to change that by throwing his hat in the ring.
Moghadam said another thing has changed as well, he’s gone from griping about the city, to listening to voters. “Canvassing” he said “is a very hard job," he paused for effect, "And I highly recommend it.”
Going door to door in his off time, he said, is the most rewarding part of running for mayor, “You go down to Logan Heights or Ocean Beach, or PB or Claremont, they have different problems that you just never think about. You talk to a lot of people, and you get to experience a lot of troubles out there."
From the La Jolla businessman to the City Hall gadfly, from the brash young college student to the humble restaurateur, these "other" candidates are running because they can.
In the end they run not to win, but because they are tired of a political system that they feel no longer includes them.
When they look at the top candidates they see more of the same, and they say they are each hoping to be something different. If you look a at a field of candidates and none of them click for you, why not add a candidate who does: yourself?
The outsider candidates firmly believe the job of mayor should be open to anyone. After all, the only qualification outside of age and residency is the desire to make a difference.