Sandra Emerson, Staff Writer
Created: 10/12/2010 10:12:50 PM PDT

UPLAND – Through the haze of pending economic challenges and an ongoing FBI investigation, two newcomers are challenging three incumbents on the City Council.

Mark Creighton, a former Marine, is making his second attempt at public office and Gino Filippi, a well-known wine enthusiast, is stepping into Upland politics for the first time.

The two have teamed up, hoping to have a better chance at securing at least one spot on the council on Nov. 2.

“It’s tough to unseat an incumbent. It’s tough to go against the political machine they’ve built,” said Creighton, who ran against Councilman Ken Willis in 2008 and lost.

The two newcomers are facing incumbents Tom Thomas, who joined the council in 1990, Ray Musser, who joined in 1998, and Brendan Brandt, who was elected in 2002.

Filippi, who writes a wine column for the Daily Bulletin, said he and Creighton share the mission of serving the people of Upland and often will campaign together.

“We walk together at times and we share ideas on the campaign and it’s really helpful because there’s no other support out there for newbies, as you would call us,” he said.

The incumbents are staying loyal to one another during the election, Thomas said.

“In fact, we made a decision at the beginning of the year that as long as all three of us were running we would support each other and not support any challengers,” Thomas said. “We felt things were going well with the city and wanted to continue working with each other.”

The three incumbents are running on the work they have done for the city while on the council, which includes approving balanced budgets with 25percent left in reserve.

This, along with the opening of the new animal services shelter and fire station earlier in the year, leaves Brandt hopeful residents will want to re-elect the incumbents.

“We’ve worked very hard to bring the city back from where it was in 2000. Where it was on the verge of real financial problems,” Brandt said. “I’ve chaired the finance committee during this time period. I still am current chair of the finance and economic committee and I want to continue on that to make sure that we keep a balanced budget.”

Creighton and Filippi say they are running to provide residents with new voices on the council.

“One of my concerns is that there’s been a bit of complacency and we always hear the word change, we need change,” Filippi said. “I think that we do need some change on this (council), if nothing else some ethics training and some team building.”

Many of the questions posed to all five candidates by constituents have been about the raid of City Hall and Mayor John Pomierski’s home in June by FBI and IRS agents.

FBI and IRS agents confiscated boxes of records from Pomierski’s home, where his construction company is based, and from City Hall, JH Builders in Upland and Venture West Capital in Rancho Cucamonga.

A search warrant for Pomierski’s cell phone sought records as evidence of violations including conspiracy, extortion, bribery, fraud, money laundering and racketeering, authorities said.

Musser said he gets asked about the investigation as often as two or three times a day.

“We incumbents don’t like to talk much about it because No.1, it’s something we have no control over,” he said. “No.2, we want our city to be as good and honest and have as good of integrity as possible, and this goes counter to that.”

Creighton said he and Filippi have found that many residents believe the mayor is no longer in office.

“Until he’s proven guilty he’s an innocent man and he still has to do his job,” Creighton said. “Sadly the public perception is the opposite of that. That’s why my biggest fear is we’re not going to get enough attention that we want to make positive change for Upland. That this is going to overshadow the true positiveness of getting two new voices that are good people in Upland.”

Brandt said he too gets asked about the investigation while he’s out meeting with people on the campaign trail.

“I think Upland residents are also pretty sophisticated and that they understand that to let the process take its course, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

However, Thomas does not think the investigation is overshadowing this year’s election.

“The city continues to function and the FBI made it clear that no other elected official is being looked at and no one on the city staff is being looked at,” he said.

The uncertainty among residents about the investigation’s impact on the city government is something Filippi is hoping to work past this election season.

“There’s uncertainty among many residents and it’s an unfortunate situation,” he said. “I can’t imagine how, if I tried to put myself in the mayor’s shoes, I can’t imagine the stress, so it’s there. We’ll work through it somehow.”

Creighton and Filippi said they had received phone calls from incumbents encouraging them not to run.

“I am surprised by some of the quote-unquote politics as usual and not so surprised by some,” Filippi said. “I think I was discouraged to run by one incumbent. It put me back a bit to think that I was being asked not to run and so perhaps that gave me more interest and more strength.”

Musser said he had heard from the newcomers that there may have been some discouraging phone calls made. He too has experienced this in the past, he said.

“The first time I ran I had a lot of people encouraging me, but I had some people saying `no you shouldn’t, you don’t have a chance,”‘ he said.

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