Different venue, same responses

At this point in the City Council race only the outcome remains a mystery

A full cast of Chico City Council hopefuls showed up for the Blue Room Theatre’s unorthodox forum.

A full cast of Chico City Council hopefuls showed up for the Blue Room Theatre’s unorthodox forum.

Photo By tom gascoyne

Stage lights are bright, as the eight candidates vying for the three open seats on the Chico City Council discovered this week.

They were gathered for a forum in the Blue Room Theatre, a venue quite different from the last place they met. They sat in unforgiving wooden chairs, bathed in bright lights and facing an audience of about two dozen people they couldn’t really see.

It was a far cry from the comforts of the council chambers, where the candidates met last month for a League of Women Voters forum.

The forum was sponsored by the Blue Room and moderated by its art director, Ben Allen, who disclosed early on that, while the theater does accept the largess of the city through community art funding doled out by the council, it does not make endorsements.

For those who’ve been out of the country, in a coma or otherwise distracted, the candidates are incumbents Mary Flynn and Scott Gruendl, along with two Marks (Herrera and Sorensen), two Bobs (Evans and Kromer), a Quentin (Colgan) and a Brahama (Sharma).

As in previous forums, the candidates were asked to make 90-second opening statements. Evans, former manager of Lifetouch, said that 17-year job qualifies him to handle the city’s business. Not surprisingly, he criticized the current council, blaming it for the city’s high unemployment.

“I think the city’s No. 1 priority ought to be jobs,” he said, “and it isn’t.”

Kromer named the relatives he had who had lived here in the past and explained that he and his wife enjoyed visiting here and eventually decided to move here. They bought land, built a house and have lived here 21¼2 years. His working experience includes 35 years at a high-tech industry where he had a “billion dollars in sales responsibility.”

He also said the lack of jobs and the city’s sluggish budget are two big problems he would address.

Flynn explained that when she took the oath of office she vowed that she would represent “all the people who live in Chico,” which she feels she’s done through “thoughtful, independent leadership.” Flynn noted she had inherited the whopping deficit, and defended the current panel’s record: “[The] $54 million structural deficit that we have corrected hardly sounds like fiscal mismanagement to me.”

Fellow incumbent Gruendl echoed her, noting that more than ever the city needs experienced council members. Besides understanding how business works, he said, “I also know how government works.” He said he’s proven that by maintaining public services while reducing costs.

Colgan said, “I want to represent you on the City Council. That’s right, you. Not the urban-sprawl developers on one side or the infill developers on the other side,” referring to the politically opposite ways some other candidates think the city should grow.

First-time candidate Herrera, by far the youngest, recalled his recent conversation with a local 21-year-old who said the city had changed in his lifetime and that he thought the town was falling apart.

“He thanked me when I explained to him that my goal as a policy maker and in life is to ensure that when my time is up on this planet, those who come after me will be proud to call Chico their home.”

Unlike the other candidates, Sharma stood to address his audience. “I look forward to being on the council with one purpose. The platform is only to serve the people of Chico. That is the sole purpose of being a council member.”

Finally, Sorensen told the audience that he grew up here, went to Chico High, where he met his wife, moved away, worked for RCA and General Electric and moved back to Chico in 1990.

If elected, he said, he “will work to preserve my hometown, not only for myself, but also for my kids and I hope for our following generations.”

The setup for this forum didn’t include questions from a panel of journalists or even from the audience, as is done at the LWV forums. Rather, the candidates themselves asked the questions, or at least wrote them down on a piece of paper for Allen to read. Because of time constraints, only five candidates at a time, based on where they were seated numerically, answered any particular question. Answers were limited to 60 seconds.

The questions from the conservative candidates centered on high unemployment and putative reckless spending by the current council. The incumbents’ questions asked about “social initiatives” a winning candidate would support once on the council.

And so it went, despite the lights and hard chairs: predictable, heard-it-before campaigning just a week before the election. At this point, the most interesting factor in the race is that there’s no way to measure who’s ahead and who’s wasting time. Such is the nature of Chico City Council elections.