Stockton Mayor Kevin Lincoln is leaving office to run for Congress in 2024. Four people have declared for his seat. At least two more reportedly are seriously considering a run.
The stakes are high. It’s not just a matter of competence — though that’s important enough — but of honest government versus a self-serving clique of elected officials and behind-the-scenes players.
“The race will come down to a candidate who will stamp out corruption in Stockton and in City Hall,” said Baleriano Reyes, a political consultant with Tabletop Strategies who is working for Councilman Dan Wright.
Let’s weigh in on the mayoral contenders.
· Wright, a two-term councilman, does the heaviest policy lifting of anyone on the council. He championed the switch from PG&E to East Bay Community Energy, which will save Stockton customers money, use greener energy, and bring investment to the city.
Wright has leadership experience, having served as acting superintendent for Stockton Unified School District and assistant superintendent and director.
He’s pro-union but fiscally responsible. He has demonstrated the ability to work with all his colleagues.
He’s good mayor material — the best of the lot — but he’s a staid personality who lacks a campaigner’s charisma, and he’s a weak fundraiser. He’ll have to address both shortcomings.
· Christina Fugazi, a school vice-principal, former vice-mayor and planning commissioner, is a populist. Her base consists of ordinary and disadvantaged Stocktonians who feel that their concerns are ignored by establishment elites, a perception she stokes.
“Reckless spending with tax money meant for public safety has left our city in turmoil,” she said when announcing her candidacy. “Crime and homelessness are spiraling out of control. Stockton needs leaders who will hold city management accountable.”
Fugazi’s claim that city executives ignore public safety is a stretch. The city can’t hire enough cops because there’s a police shortage and other cities pay more. But affirming that elites don’t care about ordinary people is how populists appeal to their base.
As mayor, Fugazi likely would have an open door to ordinary citizens.
But her populist strength is also her weakness: a distrust of city managers, other establishment leaders, and council colleagues, which often leaves her politically isolated.
Her choice of political associates also raises questions. She was close with disgraced Mayor Anthony Silva and other characters who see City Hall as a profit opportunity, raising the concern that her door would be open to them, too.
· Tom Patti, owner of Delta Cranes, is a San Joaquin County Supervisor representing District 3, which includes Lathrop, Manteca and a small slice of northwest Stockton.
A smart campaigner, Patti is one of those pols who turn up at every event to press the flesh and pose for photos.
He voted to spend federal rescue dollars on shelter beds, dramatically expanding the number to 1,279. These beds will, at long last, dent the county’s homeless population.
But voting yes and leadership are two different things. For years, Patti broke with the county’s productive Continuum of Care and pursued his pipe dream of buying the old Stockton Record building and transforming it into a “megashelter.”
The astronomical cost — not to mention all other leaders going in another direction — made his idea a nonstarter.
Patti showed leadership by empaneling a committee of stakeholders to address homelessness, but the committee accomplished nothing.
Patti has been involved in sketchy deals. For example, when supervisorial district maps were to be redrawn, he championed a company to do it. The board approved a six-figure deal — but killed it when it emerged that the company included Patti’s political consultant, a fact Patti neglected to mention.
Though the office of Supervisor is nonpartisan, Patti makes no bones about being a Republican, one skeptical about election integrity, and immigration, among other red meat issues.
“If we were so racist wouldn’t the word spread all around the world not to come to America?” he asked on his Facebook page. “Instead hundreds and thousands of minorities (from around the world) daily risk their lives to come to America for an opportunity, a better tomorrow. I wish they did it through the legal process!!”
Patti is as mean and petty to political opponents as he is personable in public and in person. He makes Board of Supervisor meetings bitterly contentious. His feuding went so overboard that even his board allies voted to censure him. He’d be the same as mayor.
· Ernesto Gonzalez is a coordinator for the Public Health Department of Calaveras County. He is also chair of the Measure A Oversight Committee and serves on the board of directors for two local nonprofits.
A Stockton native, he may be expected to garner some votes as the race’s sole Latino.
“I would like to say that my philosophies on life are similar to my political philosophies,” he wrote on Ballotpedia in 2018. “People should make the effort to be kind, compassionate, and respectful to each other.”
Gonzalez lost in the Stockton District 3 City Council primary with 12.3% of the vote. He is the underdog in this race, too.
· A question for Fugazi, Patti, and Gonzalez involves their
Section 1100 of Stockton’s City Charter says, “The mayor shall devote his or her full time to the office of mayor.” The candidates must say whether they will honor that provision.
All that said, there’s plenty of time until Election Day. Time enough for mayoral debates, white papers, and perhaps skeletons to tumble out of closets. If the facts change, we’ll change our minds.
Investigative columnist Mike Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. His views do not represent those of the Stocktonia management and staff. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.