The theme that dominates the Carson mayoral race has little to do with the day-to-day issues residents face, but instead revolves around who gets to wield the city's governmental power.
Should the mayor hold the lion's share or should the five members of the City Council each carry equal weight?
Incumbent Mayor Jim Dear, 60, is facing off against sitting Councilwoman Lula Davis-Holmes, 64. The two have been archenemies for years, each jockeying to wrest power from the other. Davis-Holmes says Dear is too power hungry. In turn, he argues that she is disrespectful.
"I'm the hardest working mayor in the history of the city," Dear said. Davis-Holmes "has spent a great deal of time showing disrespect for the office of the mayor and arguing with me during council meetings."
A measure on the March 5 ballot, Measure M, speaks to the power struggle on the council. It asks voters to eliminate city's elective mayor position, which is decided every two years. That would allow council members to return to the former system in which council members select a mayor from among themselves every year on a rotating basis.
Dear opposes the idea, while his foes support it. If it passes, it will take effect in 2017.
If Davis-Holmes is elected mayor, her council seat will be vacant and council members will have to decide whether to hold a special election or appoint someone to replace her.
She said her tenure would be more peaceful than Dear's, whose leadership has been marked by divisive, argumentative council meetings that usually last more than six hours. Council members routinely bicker over Dear's grip on power, often going so far as to call each other names. Dear complains that his political foes should give him more respect and deference during meetings and public appearances.
"We have a divided city," Dear said of his opponents. "Of the four elections I've run in, each one I've gotten a higher percentage of the vote. Maybe it's jealousy. ... I'm not saying I'm a genius, I'm just saying I'm creative. I'm married to the city, and I have a very clean record.
Davis-Holmes calls Dear a tyrant and says the city needs a more balanced City Council that provides a blueprint for growth and allows staff and developers to decide how to implement those goals.
"The city manager is CEO of the city. We give him his marching orders and review him quarterly on what he's done," Davis-Holmes said. "We want economic development, public safety. We give staff our wish list."
Davis-Holmes joined the council in 2007 after working for more than two decades in the city's recreation department, where she retired as a supervisor. If she loses, she will remain on the council to finish her term through 2015.
"I'm not about power, I'm about what moves the city forward," she said. "I'm a team builder, not a tyrant."
Dear, a part-time substitute teacher, joined the council in 2001 and was elected mayor for the first time in 2004. He takes credit for the progress on the Boulevards at South Bay project, a massive mixed-use development that calls for an outlet mall, movie theater, offices and homes on a former landfill site at the San Diego (405) Freeway and Avalon Boulevard. The council helped the developers with a multimillion-dollar contribution to the soil remediation process.
Both candidates support the project, which won't be a reality for years because of an ongoing large-scale environmental remediation to make the area habitable despite underground pockets of methane gas produced by the closed landfills there.
In 2011, Dear attempted to modify city policy so a street running through the Boulevards development could be named after him. Three council members balked at the suggestion, arguing that city facilities should only be named for people who are no longer living.
"There have been many attempts to develop it over the years," Dear said. "Under my administration, it's finally being developed."
Davis-Holmes differs in her attitude about the massive project in that she credits the developer, city staff and council for moving it forward.
"The Boulevards has been going on way before Jim," Davis-Holmes said. "It's going to put Carson on the map. We're a city that's waiting to explode."
Another point of frequent contention is Dear's efforts to retain control over all appointments to city commissions and committees. Davis-Holmes believes council members should have a hand in making some appointments to create more diversity on the panels.
The two candidates also differ on some major city planning issues. Dear supports annexing unincorporated Rancho Dominguez, a move opposed by Davis-Holmes because she believes it would likely be costly and a drain on city services.
They agree that the city needs more restaurants, theaters and affordable housing options. But they recently clashed on a planning issue involving the number of cash-for-gold stores in the city.
Davis-Holmes spearheaded an effort to restrict the number of cash-for-gold businesses in the city. Dear argued that the city shouldn't regulate the types of businesses that come in to the city because that would hurt the local economy.
Both candidates consider themselves fiscally conservative. They also agree that the city should continue to take a harsh stance against Shell Oil Co., which is embroiled in lawsuits with residents in the Carousel tract neighborhood.
The 285-home development was built on petroleum-contaminated soil in the 1960s. Several years ago, the contamination was rediscovered and a cleanup plan was put into the works. The plan has moved slowly and residents say their health and home values have suffered greatly. Both candidates have advocated for Shell to pay them for their homes, rather than continue the slow-moving soil cleanup.
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