No cheap seats
Winning campaigns for Chico City Council dauntingly expensive for challengers
Jovanni Tricerri figures that a lot goes into running a successful campaign for a seat on the Chico City Council. As a first-time challenger, he’ll need name recognition, a solid platform for people to jump on and—more than ever—money.
“You have to put in a lot of hard work and sell yourself,” he said, speaking on the phone from his office at the North Valley Community Foundation. “You have to resonate with the voters, and when you resonate, you raise money.”
He’s just not sure how much will be enough. The 2014 election cycle saw City Council candidates raise unprecedented amounts, according to documents posted online by the City Clerk’s Office. First-time candidate Reanette Fillmer raised a total of $46,900, and right behind her was Andrew Coolidge, whose campaign contributions also exceeded $40,000 (he lost his bid for a seat in 2012). Both were elected alongside incumbent and current Mayor Mark Sorensen, who raised a relatively modest $26,940.
This time around, four seats are up for grabs, and Tricerri doesn’t expect them to come cheap.
“It is daunting for anyone who is considering running for City Council to think about mounting a hurdle that high,” he said, “and it keeps on getting higher.”
His strategy, therefore, is efficiency. Ahead of the Nov. 8 election, Tricerri will put out his message touting public safety and local business—he claims no party affiliation—with mailers and lawn signs, but he’s on the fence about radio spots; it may be more cost-effective to hit social media, he mused. Either way, Tricerri also intends to mount a shoe-leather campaign.
“Most of my time is going to be walking precincts, just going house-to-house and event-to-event, meeting as many voters as I can,” he said. Not only is that a way to establish connections with potential constituents, it’s inexpensive, too.
“When you see the record [campaign contributions] up around $50,000, I’m not interested in pushing those limits,” Tricerri said. “I’m not looking to break any records; I’m just looking to win.”
It’s a crowded field. As of the CN&R’s deadline, there was a pool of 10 potential candidates, including incumbents Sean Morgan, Tami Ritter, Ann Schwab and Randall Stone; and challengers Joel Castle, Lisa Duarte, Mercedes Macias, Jon Scott, Loretta Ann Torres and Tricerri.
The deadline to file candidacy paperwork is Friday (Aug. 12). The most recent campaign contribution reports cover the period from Jan. 1 to June 30, and they show that incumbent council members have gotten a head start on the challengers.
Easily leading the pack is Morgan, Chico’s conservative vice mayor, who has raised nearly $24,000 dating back to last year. The three liberal council members trail well behind: Ritter has raised $5,252, including a $1,735 loan to herself; Schwab has raised $5,580, including a $1,000 loan to herself; and Stone has raised nearly $6,000, according to finance disclosures.
Of the challengers, only Torres, the first outside candidate to emerge, has filed campaign contributions. Between Jan. 1 and June 30, she raised $5,333.
Torres is a self-employed farmer, conservative letter-writer and fixture at meetings of local government. She also ran for council in 2014, but withdrew from the race after just a few days due to a logjam of conservative candidates, including Fillmer—whom she considered more qualified, Torres previously told the CN&R.
During a recent phone interview, Torres outlined a platform based mostly on fiscal conservatism, and said she applies the same principles to her run for office.
“It’s going to be a bare-bones campaign,” she said. “I don’t believe in spending money I don’t have.” She intends to raise a total of $12,000, which she’ll use on mailers and local newspaper ads. “Spending money on radio time is money I just don’t have.”
Given recent history, having plenty of money looks like a prerequisite for the job. Tricerri isn’t discouraged, however.
“I’m not an incumbent, so I recognize that I might need to spend more money to get my name recognized,” he said. “But I believe we need more voices in our political system, and I have to concentrate on raising the funds necessary to have a voice.”