GILROY – State Assemblyman Simon Salinas heard about everything from budget cuts to school uniforms from South County residents last week during an open house at downtown’s Garlic City Coffee and Tea shop.
Topics at the two-hour “Sidewalk Office Hours” forum ranged from general issues, such as the state’s economic outlook and budget deficit, to specific concerns about unemployment payments and school uniforms.
“It was pretty diverse,” Salinas said about the open house, his first scheduled in Gilroy. The first-term Democrat will face Gilroy Republican Jane Howard in the November election.
Only a handful of citizens were on hand at the beginning of the event, but soon people were lined up as many as ten deep for a few minutes one-on-one with Salinas, who sat at a table in the rear of the coffee shop.
Three aides worked the line while Salinas engaged his constituents, leaning in and making plenty of eye contact during conversations.
“I like it,” Salinas said during a brief break. “People vent and all that, but at the end of the venting session, I ask, ‘What can we do to solve the problem?'”
Gavilan college counselor Leslie Tenney and student Jesse Sandow spoke with Salinas about proposed junior college budget cuts. Salinas promised to examine possible cuts in more detail, and encouraged them to contact a budget subcommittee with their concerns as well, Tenney said.
“He’s someone who’s out there and accessible,” Tenney said. “He’s certainly one of the more accessible politicians.”
Political players like Gavilan College President Rose Marie Joyce and Gilroy Unified School District Trustee Bob Kraemer showed up late in the session.
“Simon Salinas represents this area and is involved in education, and anyone involved in education in this district should be working with him,” Kraemer said.
There were also more personal issues.
Parents Patti Romero and Yolanda Lira let Salinas know about problems at El Portal Charter School. Salinas is gathering information on charter schools, Romero said.
“I’m here today with this many because maybe we’ll get some understanding to help salvage these kids,” she said. “There were no promises, but he said he’d check back with us and keep us posted.”
Rito Ramirez, a retired labor organizer who worked on Salinas’ campaign, was there to ask him to help iron out a payment issue with the Employment Development Department.
The two men embraced briefly before Salinas met with him.
Gilroyan Louis Eros, an unemployed telecommunications specialist, came to see what the state is doing about employment issues and complain about uniform policies for his 12-year-old son. The Brownell Academy student can’t find uniforms his size, the elder Eros said.
Eros said meeting Salinas is important to making any judgments about him in the upcoming election with Gilroy Republican Jane Howard.
“You see all of the ads and the propaganda, but you don’t know what to believe,” Eros said. “You get a feeling for the guy when you talk to him.
So far the feeling is good, Eros said.
“He seems very sincere, like he means what he says,” Eros said. “He didn’t push me off, gave me as much time as I wanted and let me into the conversation. He’s not campaigning – well, subtly he is – but he’s not pushing his vote. I wish they’d all do that.”
But Salinas will have to back up the first impression with action, Eros said.
“He said he’d get back to me on some things, and let’s see if he does,” he said. “The proof is in the pudding.”