Candidates gear up for November election

Terri Aulman

As the four-week window to file for a spot in Gilroy’s political scene opened Monday, three Gilroy mayoral candidates and four City Council candidates are stretching at the starting line, as they brace themselves for their big campaign kick-offs in August.

Starting next month, mayoral candidates Don Gage, the 68-year-old Santa Clara Valley Water District board president and former Gilroy mayor, 54-year-old Councilman Dion Bracco and 61-year-old Councilman Peter Arellano will be hitting the streets with their campaigns – but for now, they are focused on building a foundation of strong local support and fundraising.

While it’s too soon to tell the potential outcome of the coming election, all three mayoral candidates say they are “very confident” about how they will fare – all pointing to their “good track record” in their current elected positions.

“I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think I could win,” Arellano said.

Although Gilroy’s four-year term mayor seat is a nonpartisan political role, candidates seem to be drawing inevitable lines in the sand as they stake the territory of their political persuasions.

Bracco and Gage take similar positions on spending, both being anti-tax and pro-business, with Bracco proud of his Council votes against new taxes and government programs, and Gage being described by colleagues on the water district as a “fiscal conservative,” who can find middle ground with Democrats.

Arellano, on the other hand, touts himself as the “only Democrat running for mayor,” and has taken a strong stance on issues like protecting the environment, preserving Gilroy’s open spaces, and cultivating local jobs that “pay more than minimum wage.”

Bracco and Gage – although they acknowledge their similarities on the issues – say they are better qualified for the seat than the other. Gage points to his long-term political experience, having been a two-term Gilroy mayor in the past and for the multiple roles he’s played in local politics over the past three decades.

In 1997, after serving two terms as Gilroy’s mayor, Gage was elected to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors representing District 1 which includes Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy. He was then elected to the board of directors for the Santa Clara Valley Water District in November 2010; his term ends in 2014, a seat he’ll relinquish if elected mayor.

“All the things I’ve done in 31 years has made me more qualified,” Gage said. “It’s a matter of experience, which takes nothing away from (Bracco). He’s a good guy and has the city at heart. But I feel like I could be more effective as a mayor than anyone else.”

Bracco acknowledged that Gage, who served as Gilroy’s mayor from 1991 to 1997, has more of a history in politics, but positioned himself as the choice for voters who are looking to the future of Gilroy – not the past.

“When it comes time to vote, people will either vote for going forward or going back,” Bracco said. “Don’s a great guy, but Gilroy has changed a lot since he was mayor.”

Bracco, a local businessman who owns Bracco’s Towing in Gilroy, was elected to Council in 2005, and was re-elected in 2010. His current seat expires in 2014.

Gilroy’s current mayor, Al Pinheiro, is not seeking re-election.

In terms of fundraising, Gage said he has raised about $18,000 in donations, and is poised to run a well-financed campaign. Bracco, who said he only recently began sending out support letters, said he has raised about $4,000 so far. Arellano declined to give a rough estimate of how much he’s raised, but noted that fundraising has been going “very well.”

Because the final deadline to file for candidacy is Aug. 10, and Aug. 8 signals the first day that candidates can put up posters around town, campaigns really pick up steam during the month of August, according to City Clerk Shawna Freels.

And the mayoral seat isn’t the only spot that’s hotly contested. City Council elections are also starting to heat up. Three current Council members’ seats are expiring this November, and two of them, Councilwoman Cat Tucker and Councilman Perry Woodward, are seeking  re-election. Councilman Bob Dillon, who is not seeking re-election, holds the third empty seat.

Along with the two incumbents running, two more Council hopefuls have filed their intent to run so far: Terri Aulman, planning commissioner chair, and Paul Kloecker, former three-term Gilroy Councilman.

Woodward and Tucker’s campaigns are focused on the work they’ve accomplished in their current role serving Gilroy, as well as the work that still needs to be done.

“I’ve done a lot of work for the open government ordinance, and other things, but there’s still more to accomplish,” Tucker said.

Woodward, pointing to his “strong track record” of promoting the open government ordinance, as well as pushing for city-led sidewalk repairs, doesn’t want hundreds of posters with his smiling face taped up around town, as he thinks they would just “add to the campaign noise” – although he might put out a few.

“For the most part I’m hoping I’ve already got that message out through my time on the Council,” Woodward said.  

Woodward initially intended to run for mayor, but decided in April to run for Council instead after Gage announced his mayoral candidacy, because he saw Gage as a qualified person whom he could support as mayor.

Aulman, 65, who has lived in Gilroy about two years, said she is currently trying to meet with as many people as she can in the coming months – especially small business owners – to understand the issues Gilroyans “truly care about.”

Aulman, now retired from her 30-year career at IBM where she managed a $130 million budget, cares about maintaining a balanced budget as well as supporting small businesses. After serving as Gilroy’s planning commission chair for 18 months, she is eager to step up her role in politics.

Kloecker, 76, retired Navy civil engineer, and Gilroy Councilman from 1983 to 1995, said he is ready to jump back into local politics.

Kloecker is passionate about bringing Council together through collaboration, compromise and mutual respect for differing opinions. He also wants to bring the city back to a “solid” cooperative relationship with Gilroy Unified School District.

“When I was on Council, I remember a time of good Council relations,” Kloecker said. “If re-elected, I would strive to get that back to the highest level we can.”

As the filing deadline approaches in several weeks, Gilroy may see a few more candidates file for local office, Freels said – but by Aug. 10, the candidate roster will be official, and the 88-day countdown to the Nov. 6 elections will be a high-gear race to the mayoral and Council seats.

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