Wendy Leung, Staff Writer
Created: 11/26/2010 04:45:55 PM PST

RANCHO CUCAMONGA – Among those in the audience at Wednesday night’s swearing-in ceremony of the new City Council will be a blue-eyed toddler and a gregarious 2-year-old who’s an expert at disassembling anything that’s baby-proof.

Addie and her baby sister, Grace – new additions to Mayor Don Kurth’s family – will be there to see their father end a chapter of his political career. The one-term mayor did not seek re-election this year. On Wednesday, Councilman Dennis Michael will be sworn in to lead the City Council.

“It was a fun job,” said Kurth, 61, about being mayor. “But it’s not my entire identity. I have other interests in life. Especially at home.”

The two girls are no strangers to the monthly meetings. Grace has accompanied her mother to the council chambers before, and Addie has watched the televised meetings from home. For the first couple of minutes, Addie would point to the television and say, “Daddy.”

Kurth and his wife, Dee Matreyek, adopted Grace when she was a newborn. The couple is in the process of adopting Grace’s biological sister, Addie, which is short for either Adelaide or Adeline. (They still have several months to decide.)

In June, the mayor lost the Republican nomination for the Assembly. Kurth, who had been mum during the campaign about his City Council plans, later decided to duck out of the election furor, saying his priorities have changed now that his family has grown.

Kurth, a physician specializing in addiction medicine with an urgent care business in the city, was appointed to the City Council in 2002 and served two years. In 2006, he had an unexpected victory when he beat Bill Alexander in a close race by about 3percentage points.

About six months after he was sworn in, Kurth underwent emergency heart by-pass surgery after experiencing chest pains. In September 2007, just three months after the surgery, Kurth enrolled at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government for a master’s degree in public administration, which he received a year later.

Kurth spent much of that year flying back and forth from Southern California to Massachusetts. His colleague, Councilman Sam Spagnolo, thinks it was a move that hurt Kurth politically. Spagnolo said the other four members of the council stepped up to fill the void, appearing at special meetings and events when the mayor was out of town.

“We became stronger for it,” Spagnolo said about the council. “Did it hurt us as a city? I don’t know that it did. It hurt Don more than it hurt the city.”

Jerie Lee, a former patient of Kurth’s, agreed that the mayor’s move to seek an advanced degree hurt him.

“I have mixed emotions,” said Lee, a regular at the City Council meetings. “I think he had that right (to attend Harvard). But many people have said he shouldn’t have done that.”

But Lee believes Kurth was a strong asset to the city and was often very thorough.

“He’s always asking more questions, always going further than he needs to go,” Lee said. “I kind of hate to see him go.”

Two years into his mayoral term, Kurth started to eye termed-out Assemblyman Bill Emmerson’s seat. By early 2009, Kurth hired a political consultant, treasurer and fundraiser. He would eventually raise the most money in a field of seven Republican candidates but would find himself in third place, a defeat as surprising as his 2006 City Council victory.

Kurth said his position as an elected official hurt him. The winner in the race, Mike Morrell, and the runner-up, Paul Chabot, were both political novices.

For now, Kurth says he’s focusing on his two daughters but he’s not permanently closing the political doors.

“I may give it a shot again,” he said.

In the four years as mayor, Kurth guided the city to ban medical marijuana dispensaries from being established. Kurth also led efforts to tighten outdoor smoking bans. Although he could not get the council to agree on more stringent measures, such as bans in outdoor dining patios or apartments, the city now prohibits smoking in outdoor service lines and bus stops.

“His No. 1 legacy is the smoking bans,” said John Lyons, a longtime council watcher who was once Kurth’s most vocal critic. “It has saved more lives.”

Kurth said he is most proud of keeping the City Council focused despite the distractions of Councilman Rex Gutierrez’s criminal trial and the budget cutbacks.

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