San Mateo County supe hopefuls throw hats in the ring 

Dealing with a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, building a new jail and meeting the increased need for health care are among issues facing San Mateo County as candidates for the Board of Supervisors gear up for the June 8 election.

Of the five board seats, only District 3 will be open without an incumbent. Supervisor Rich Gordon, the current representative for that district, is termed out. Five candidates have filed to run for the post, with one already intending to drop out.

The other seat up for re-election is District 2,and the current holder, Supervisor Carole Groom, is currently unchallenged.

Although the filing period for candidates does not officially begin until Feb. 8, several candidates have already announced their intention to run, according to county Elections Manager David Tom.

In San Mateo County, candidates represent the residents and interests of one of five geographic districts, but run countywide in at-large elections.

District 3 covers much of the unincorporated area of San Mateo County along the coast, as well as Redwood Shores, Atherton, Menlo Park and San Carlos. District 2 includes Belmont, San Mateo and Foster City.

Former San Mateo County Sheriff Don Horsley, the most recognizable candidate seeking the District 3 seat, has started strong with his campaign.

Horsley had collected $121,000 in donations by the most recent campaign finance filing deadline in September.

His financial supporters include San Mateo County Undersheriff Carlos Balanos, former Redwood City Mayor Brenton Britschgi and San Mateo County Chief Deputy Coroner Jerry Cohn.

The Emerald Hills resident also has received key endorsements from elected officials, including Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, Assemblyman Jerry Hill and U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.

Horsley said he hopes to become supervisor in order to focus on building more transit-friendly housing in the county, return funding to the “badly cut” county park budget and improve education opportunities.

“Now is the time the county and community needs experienced leadership,” he said. “I’m just that person to fit the bill.”
Horsley completed 14 years as county sheriff in 2006; he was elected to the board of directors for the Sequoia Union Health Care District that same year.

Another candidate, small-business owner April Vargas of Montara, said she’s running to help the county reduce greenhouse gases and hopes to focus on preserving the coastline.

A community activist who has sat on several county committees and task forces, Vargas was among residents who helped gain support at the county and state level to build the tunnel around Devil’s Slide.

She trails Horsley in campaign contributions with $10,756 as of September, according to campaign documents.

“This will be a tough campaign,” Vargas wrote on her campaign Web site.  “I need to raise over $300,000.”

Her list of endorsements includes former Rep. Pete McCloskey, several local school board members, former city mayors and a number of current City Council members, including Jim Grady of Half Moon Bay and David Lim of San Mateo.

John Hickey also has declared his intentions to run for the District 3 seat. The 75-year-old retired research scientist said improving the education of county students is his No. 1 priority.

The Redwood City resident said the county should consider property tax credits for education to allow homeowners to donate up to $5,000 — paid through their property taxes — to a student or school of their choice.

Hickey ran in the recall election for governor in 2003. He most recently ran for the Redwood City Elementary School Board in November, but was not elected.

Hickey also said he’s opposed to building a new jail.

“I think we have a jail system that puts too many people in jail,” he said. “Soon it will be cheaper to put us law-abiding citizens in jail for protective custody.”

He’s also in favor of lessening the county’s contributions to retirement. The county budget office estimates contributions will reach $48 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Hickey has raised an estimated $6,021 for his campaign.

Candidate Michael Stogner, 59, an auto salesman, said his ability to make tough decisions when others are not willing to is one reason he should be elected.

The Belmont resident said he sent letters demanding the resignation of Sheriff Greg Monks and Undersheriff Balanos in 2006 following a brothel scandal in Las Vegas. Monks is up for re-election in June and is currently unopposed.

“I didn’t do it lightly,” Stogner said. “I don’t think these two guys should be responsible for my law enforcement.”

Stogner has not submitted a campaign contributions report, according to elections officials.

One other resident who had planned to run for supervisor, Dan Mineta — a Jefferson Union High School District trustee — said that he intends to withdraw from the race.

Numerous issues face the county that any newly elected supervisor will need to be prepared to address, said Marshall Wilson, a San Mateo County spokesman.

Those include a $100 million structural deficit and the construction of a new jail. Supervisors have a big job ahead of them in the next year or two, he said.

“These decision makers impact our lives day to day,” Wilson said.

Committee discussing change to county’s at-large elections

San Mateo County’s at-large supervisor elections could change after a charter review committee focuses on the benefits of the current system versus district-specific balloting.

This month, a committee of 17 citizens will begin reviewing the county charter and many of its policies, including the way elections are held.

An at-large election is when all registered voters, regardless of district, are able to cast ballots for the elected representatives for other districts. A by-district format means candidates would only need to garner votes from the residents who live within the district they aim to represent.

Supervisor Rich Gordon said the committee was formed in response a 2008-09 grand jury report that determined that a special election should have been held to fill a vacancy in 2008 instead of appointing Carole Groom.

District elections have been found to be more representative, would encourage competitive elections, would lower the cost barrier for some candidates so new candidates would consider running and encourage a broad range of candidates with more local concerns, the grand jury wrote in a June letter to Board of Supervisors President Mark Church.

San Mateo County is the only county in the state to hold at-large elections for its Board of Supervisors, according to the grand jury.

However, opinions vary on whether to change the way elected officials are voted into office.

Groom said having voters cast ballots for all supervisors encourages the county representatives to work together.

“It’s a hallmark of this county,” she said of the at-large elections. “We must collaborate and work with the 20 cities to achieve good things.”

April Vargas, a Montara resident and candidate for District 3 supervisor, said less time and money would be spent on campaigns if elections were district specific.

“It discourages candidates from running,” she said. “You have to reach out to 400,000 voters countywide. That’s a lot of outreach, time, attention and money.”

Once the committee reviews the charter and election policy, recommendations will be made to the Board of Supervisors. Before elections change, the recommendations will be put to a vote, most likely near the end of the year, according to David Tom, county elections manager.

Supervisors appointed two members each to the 17-member Charter Review Committee. Then, one appointment was made by each of the following organizations: the San Mateo County School Boards Association, SamCEDA, the Council of Cities, the League of Women Voters, the San Mateo County Central Labor Council, Sustainable San Mateo County and the Youth Commission.

Carole Groom

District 2 incumbent

- Age: 65
- City of residence: San Mateo
- Occupation: Full-time supervisor

Michael Stogner

District 3 candidate

- Age: 59
- City of residence: San Carlos
- Occupation: Auto salesman

John Hickey

District 3 candidate

- Age: 75
- City of residence: Emerald Hills
- Occupation: Retired research scientist

Don Horsley

District 3 candidate

- Age: 66
- City of residence: Emerald Hills
- Occupation: Retired San Mateo County sheriff

April Vargas

District 3 candidate

- Age: 59
- City of residence: Montara
- Occupation: Small-business owner

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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