Vote 2011 | Claremont City Council

Rivals try different tactics to stand out
Wes Woods II, Staff Writer
Created: 02/26/2011 07:05:23 AM PST

CLAREMONT – With eight people running for three open City Council seats, the candidates’ toughest fight has been separating themselves from the pack in time for the March 8 general election.

To reach the maximum number of voters, the candidates said they have mostly tried to combine old-school campaigning – such as meeting the public at local hot spots – with methods made popular thanks to recent technological advancements – such as maintaining a Facebook page.

But even those methods haven’t been enough to break away.

“Open seats really tend to bring out a lot of candidates, at the same time, it is hard to stand out,” said Douglas Johnson, a fellow with the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College.

With two incumbents – Linda Elderkin and Peter Yao – choosing not to run, the race has featured a colorful mixture of newcomers and familiar faces.

The candidates for three open seats are Joseph Armendarez, Robin Haulman, Rex Jaime, Michael John Keenan, Joseph M. Lyons, Opanyi K. Nasiali, incumbent Sam Pedroza, and Jay N. Pocock.

Some political experts said Pedroza could have the easiest time winning a seat because of his name recognition.

“One incumbent running with three seats up is all but guaranteed re-election,” Johnson said.

Jack Pitney, political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, said name recognition for an incumbent in a small city such as Claremont – which had a population in 2008 of about 37,200 people – is an advantage, but other candidates could still prevail.

“It doesn’t take a fortune to campaign in a (small) city like Claremont,” Pitney said.

“It’s certainly not like running countywide. So you can actually reach a large number of people on the cheap. It’s a political equalizer.”

Pedroza agreed that the odds are likely in his favor.

“However, this is Claremont, and there is a list of incumbents who have not gotten elected.”

In recent weeks, candidates have been trying a range of ways to get locals to cast a ballot in their favor.

Pedroza said aspects of his social network campaign are being run by a high school student, Richard Mancuso.

It “was a lot more effective than a $1,500 piece mailer,” Pedroza said.

Armendarez, who has called Claremont home for 63 years, said he was still trying to figure out a way to improve his name recognition. He has created a website as well as purchased signs that dot local property. He is also hoping his ballot statement influences voters.

Pocock has been running a heavy-on-the-numbers campaign against city pensions. He is banking on a “person-to-person laying out the subjects” approach to get potential voters to better understand his campaign.

Pocock said he also was paying for inserts in a local newspaper, The Claremont Courier.

Haulman said she was trying everything to reach out to every potential voter, including lawn signs, multimedia and pounding the pavement. The former member of the city’s Architectural Commission estimated she spent 40percent of her war chest on advertising.

Nasiali said he preferred talking with people in person, because he can see their faces and read their body language.

Nasiali – who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2001 and 2007, but has been on a number of city commissions – added it was important to have Facebook and e-mail accounts as well as be able to operate a website.

“Advertising is pretty expensive,” Nasiali said.

Lyons said he felt his sustainability platform, which includes attention toward quality-of-life issues, would help him gain traction with voters. The board member for the Pomona Valley National Alliance on Mental Illness and other organizations cited mailers and e-mail – “the most powerful tool” – as strong ways to reach potential voters.

Jaime said his budget was “next to nothing” so he felt meeting people individually would work best for him. The four-year city resident and engineer said he has also been directing people to his website, which lists his viewpoints on local issues.

Keenan, who has run unsuccessfully for office twice, said he has chosen not to go in the direction of social media such as Twitter or Facebook.

“As far as Facebook goes, I am very reluctant to enter into what is basically a corporate social surveillance system and be sold to third-party identities,” Keenan said.

Instead, Keenan said he has been conducting a more traditional approach to his campaign.

“I enjoyed going door-to- door in past campaigns in other elections I helped on. I have been at Vons and other places and have enjoyed the political give-and-take mixed with some good-natured bantering,” he said.

Local experts emphasized that an important key to winning the election was having an established support base.

“If they’re the head of a big community organization or involved in Kiwanis, it gives them a pool of votes they’re fairly sure of,” Johnson said. “They will have the advantage over someone just trying to win by simply standing out in a campaign.”

Candidates who have attached themselves to local issues, such as opposing a $95million school bond measure this past fall, can make themselves attractive to potential voters, Pitney said.

“Oh, yeah, that’s always an advantage,” Pitney said.

These candidates benefit from being established on a community issue, which helps them get their name out to the public, he said.

Johnson agreed with Pitney about the bond issue. Voters on Nov. 2 defeated Claremont Unified School District’s Measure CL. The measure called for the issuance of general obligation bonds to repair and upgrade the district’s schools.

“November is pretty recent in election times,” Johnson said. “People active on either side (of the bond issue) have a network of people who know them and are willing to vote for them this time … The combination of it being difficult to stand out (in a field of eight candidates) and the turnout is so low that it puts a premium on people who have a big circle of automatic votes for them.”

Another key to victory can be the smart use of social media options such as Facebook, a social network service and website launched in February 2004.

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