Wendy Leung, Staff Writer
Created: 03/07/2010 06:02:26 AM PST

RANCHO CUCAMONGA – So much of November’s City Council race rests on what happens this summer.

By then, results of the Republican primaries for the 63rd Assembly District will be in, which will indicate whether Mayor Don Kurth has a chance to replace termed-out Assemblyman Bill Emmerson, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and leave the City Council.

By summer, the outcome of Councilman Rex Gutierrez’s criminal case might be clearer, which will indicate whether his political career will continue.

But a councilman and a former mayor aren’t waiting until summer to ponder their political future.

Bill Alexander, 66, who led the city for 12 years, said he now wants to be a councilman. Councilman Dennis Michael, 62, said he wants to be mayor regardless of what happens in the June 8 primaries. Michael, whose term is not up until 2012, has already garnered two key endorsements for his bid for mayor – firefighter and sheriff’s deputy unions.

“I would not be running for mayor had the mayor not chosen to run for higher office,” Michael said. “However, he has made that choice and I’m not going to wait until June to make a determination. I’m moving forward with my campaign now.”

Michael said he endorses the mayor for the heavily Republican 63rd Assembly District because he believes Kurth’s physician background will be an asset in Sacramento.

“I’m certainly endorsing (Kurth), not because I want to be mayor but because he’s the right person for the job,” Michael said. “If he’s not successful and he runs for mayor, that’s OK too.”

Kurth, 60, is mum about Michael’s bid for his seat and equally taciturn on his plans should he lose the Assembly bid.

“My focus is really on winning,” Kurth said. “I wouldn’t close any options but I think this is going to be a tight (Assembly) race. In the end, I’ll pull it off.”

Kurth, Gutierrez and Councilwoman Diane Williams are up for re-election this year. Williams is determined to run for her sixth term but Gutierrez has been vague about his plans, citing his pending court case.

Gutierrez, 50, faces criminal charges of grand theft, misappropriation of public funds and filing a false claim in relation to his alleged involvement in county corruption during his employment with the San Bernardino County Assessor’s Office. Gutierrez’s trial is expected to begin mid-April.

The embattled councilman, who was ready to run against Kurth for the Assembly seat but pulled out when his legal troubles surfaced last year, said his future is up in the air.

“I don’t even know if I can run for re-election,” Gutierrez said. “I need to re-evaluate my status legally in June before I can find out what I can do. I might not be a councilman in June. I don’t even know.”

The possibility of a City Council without Gutierrez and Kurth has brought Alexander out to join the political conversation. Alexander, who considered a political comeback in 2008 but decided against it, said he will run for a council seat this year.

Alexander lost to Kurth in a surprising upset in 2006. This time around, the former firefighter said he’ll campaign harder.

“I probably should have run more aggressively. I did not take Kurth very seriously because he was somebody who looked for a position and never planned to stay there,” said Alexander, a reference to Kurth’s bid for higher office after one term on the City Council.

Alexander said he wants to scrutinize the budget more while providing more services to seniors. He thinks the city pays too much for consultants to do superfluous studies and too much for mediators to do the annual team-building sessions.

“You don’t need to pay money to build a team,” Alexander said. “Quite frankly, you need to show more transparency.”

With Alexander looking to resurrect his political career against a backdrop of uncertainty on the City Council, November’s race could prove to be one of the more interesting ones in the Inland Valley.

But with four months to go before the start of the filing period, it’s still premature to speculate who all will be on the November ballot.

Back in 1990, Williams decided to run for City Council 24 hours before the filing period ended. Now Williams, 68, is the longest-serving member on the council.

Despite her tenure, there is still a long list of projects Williams would like to see complete or move forward in her sixth term.

Williams said she’d like to work on Central Park and the final stage of the Biane Library.

“I still have a dream of a wilderness park on the northwest part of the city,” Williams said, referring to the Carrari Ranch area. “I would like to make sure the natural terrain of that area remains open space. I’m not sure what that end result would be but I just don’t want to see it terraced over.”

Williams and Councilman Sam Spagnolo are both endorsing Michael for mayor. Michael has asked Gutierrez for backing but Gutierrez said he will not give an endorsement until he knows who all is running for mayor.

Michael, a former fire chief for the city, pondered running against Alexander for mayor in 2006 but opted out. Now he sees the possibility of an empty mayoral seat as an opportune time.

“I believe I’ve prepared for many, many years for this position,” Michael said.

A son of a citrus rancher and prominent water district official, Michael has lived in the city his entire life and watched the community transform.

He became a firefighter in 1976 and served as fire chief for nearly two decades.

“As fire chief, I’ve been through more than one economic downturn,” Michael said. “I understand how to do more with less. I’m a fiscal conservative.”

Michael said he has no intention to leave the city.

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