While all eyes are glued to the contentious races topping the ballot this November, seven Elk Grove residents are aiming for a different prize – the mayor’s seat in the fast-growing Sacramento suburb.
Two candidates threw their hats in the ring months ago: Planning Commissioner Kevin Spease and Joel Broussard, a district manager for The Coca-Cola Co. After Mayor Gary Davis announced in July that he wouldn’t run for another two-year term, Vice Mayor Steve Ly joined the race.
Four other candidates – Garrett Smith, Michael Monasky, Tracie Stafford and Jrmar Jefferson – filed to run before last week’s deadline.
The southeast suburb of 161,000 people has doubled in population since incorporating in 2000. Over the next couple of years, the mayor will have to lead the city through a flurry of projects as Elk Grove moves forward with the long-promised construction on the Civic Center site, a Costco moves to town and the Wilton Rancheria Tribe begins building its controversial casino.
Before 2012, the office of mayor rotated among members of the City Council. Davis became the city’s first directly elected mayor that year in a race against five other candidates, including a council colleague.
Davis said last month that he would not run again so he could spend more time with his family. He endorsed Ly last week.
This election season is already noisy with the presidential election and 17 state initiatives on the ballot, said Sacramento political consultant Robin Swanson, making it that much more difficult to draw voters’ eyes to the races lower on the page.
“To get people to pay attention to a local race is extremely challenging” in a year like this one, she said. “Honestly, meeting people is going to be more important than the policies.”
Swanson said name recognition is a valuable asset in a race with seven candidates. Having a good ground game, local name identification and a solid understanding of local politics is going to be more important than a big bank account, she said.
Spease, 47, a local business owner, said he is focused on retaining police officers and recruiting a diverse force, completing road projects and making the city a place where new businesses flourish.
He said the number of candidates doesn’t faze him: “We’re not running against anyone, we’re running for Elk Grove,” he said.
Spease has already received the Elk Grove Police Officers Association’s endorsement. That led to one of the race’s early controversies as Ly attacked the endorsement as a “backroom deal” in an interview with the Elk Grove Citizen because he said the police group never interviewed him.
Ly was then censured by two colleagues. Councilmen Darren Suen and Steve Detrick said in a statement that saying anything that might imply a lack of confidence in the Police Department is bad for the community, especially as law enforcement officers face scrutiny across the country.
Ly said his comments were about the process, not about law enforcement, and he considers the issue “water under the bridge.”
The president of the Elk Grove POA did not respond to a request for comment.
Ly, 42, was elected to the council two years ago after a stint on the local school board. He said he wants Elk Grove to become a place where people can live and work, rather than serve as a bedroom community, which will require better roads, continued focus on public safety and strong neighborhoods.
Broussard, 35, a former firefighter, said his campaign is about hearing the concerns of the citizens of Elk Grove rather than developers and big businesses. He’s pushing for more police on the streets, a stronger partnership with the Elk Grove Unified School District and better roads.
“I’m looking to connect with everyone,” he said. “My number has been public since day one.”
Monasky has posted detailed position statements on everything from roads and transit to waste management on his personal website. Monasky, 64, said two major concerns drove him to run for office – the city’s finances and environmental policies – and his other positions stem from those.
He’s concerned that upper management in City Hall is overcompensated and said he wants reports from the finance department that are more comprehensible to the average resident. Elk Grove’s climate action plan is weak, he said, and the city should be a bigger player in the habitat conservation plans in south Sacramento County.
Jefferson, 35, a frequent candidate for public office, said supporters asked him to consider the mayor’s race after he ran in the June primary for Rep. Doris Matsui’s congressional seat.
Inspired by Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, Jefferson said he wants city government to be more inclusive and bring the cost of living down. He said he’s excited to see a diverse crowd of candidates for mayor and hopes it will turn into higher voter turnout.
“I always tell people to participate and vote new people into office,” he said.
Candidates Tracie Stafford and Garrett Smith did not return calls for comment.