The San Benito County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau hosted a “speed campaign” event to test mayoral candidates at their monthly “Lunch with Leaders” event Wednesday.
While more than 30 business owners, nonprofit representatives and interested citizens enjoyed a buffet lunch, the candidates fielded questions from Paul Rovella, a member of the chamber's board and government relations committee. Rovella allowed the candidates three minutes each to introduce themselves and their campaign points, then asked them six questions – instead of having each candidate rotate from table to table.
“Last time the candidates felt like they were saying the same thing eight times because they were the ones moving,” Rovella said.
The candidates to become Hollister’s first at-large mayor include Doug Emerson, Marty Richman, Keith Snow and Ignacio Velazquez. Snow did not attend the Lunch with Leaders speaking engagement or three other events at which the mayoral candidates were all invited to speak.
This year, the candidates answered questions in front of the full group. The time allotment ranged from 30 seconds to two minutes, depending on the question.
“I think I can do a better job than what has been done,” Marty Richman said in his introduction. “The most substantial item for leadership is integrity.”
He said he believes Hollister residents are not engaged with the city council because they don't think they are getting the truth.
Ignacio Velazquez stressed that an elected mayor needs to provide vision and direction.
“Fifteen years ago, I had this crazy idea to open a restaurant and entertainment center,” he said, referencing the Vault Restaurant. “The first thing I heard was 'You can't do that. It's a bank, not a restaurant.'”
He also referred to the defunct motorcycle rally as a financial boon for the community, despite efforts to close it down the last several years.
Doug Emerson also said the mayor has to provide vision and leadership, offering up some examples of when he said he displayed leadership qualities on the council the past eight years.
“Marley Holte – many of you knew him – had a vision for a homeless shelter,” Emerson said.
Emerson said he used his grant-writing experience to bring in more than $1 million in grants for the homeless shelter – which is not a city facility – in the last eight years and that there is a seasonal shelter open now, as was Holte's vision.
Rovella asked each candidate who they think their supporters are and why.
“The majority, I would probably say, are on the west side,” Emerson said. “I walked 4,000 houses. I didn't knock on doors, but I stopped to talk with everyone I saw. I spent a lot of time in that part of town that is neglected.”
Velazquez said he counts the people who commute out of town as his biggest supporters.
“It's those driving back and forth to San Jose for work who feel they don't have a life,” he said. “The number one thing is to bring back that biker rally.”
Richman said it was “hard to say” who his biggest supporters are, but that “most have the same attitude as me” of thinking the city has been going in the wrong direction for the last eight to 12 years.
Rovella asked the candidates to talk about how they have served the business community.
Richman said he wrote a column for the Hollister Free Lance and worked as a safety manager at Life Spark. He said when the owners of Life Spark decided to relocate, no one from the city reached out to find a way to keep them in the community.
Velazquez said is a business owner and served as president of the Hollister Downtown Association in the early 2000s.
Emerson said he is a member of the chamber and the Hollister Downtown Association. He said he served as a spokesperson for the city council in 2007 when the state was deciding on a location for the new courthouse, saying that he helped persuade state officials to build the courthouse downtown.
In summary, Rovella asked each candidate to name what they believe will be their top three accomplishments in 2014 and how local residents will be better off.
Candidates talked about their goals. Richman said he would get the community more involved in local government.
“They have to come in and drive the train,” he said.
He said he would run an open government and that he always told the truth.
Emerson said he has three projects he is focused on. He said he would like to see funding secured to complete the taxiway upgrade at the Hollister Municipal Airport, with an environmental impact report completed. He said he would like to see the design of the westside beautification project completed and he would like to see work done on the downtown strategic plan, such as the installation of crosswalks.
Velazquez said he would bring more jobs and more sales tax revenue to the city. He also said he wants to show that the motorcycle rally can make money.
“In two years, we are not going to solve everything, but I want to get moving in a direction that people start believing,” he said.