Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Carbon-copy candidates? D1 runoff candidates struggle to set themselves apart

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2011 at 12:33 PM

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At the end of Tuesday’s forum with District 1 runoff candidates Diego Bernal and Ralph Medina, the toughest question of the night remained, “What distinguishes you from your opponent?”

“We’re just different guys,” Bernal laughed, while Medina joked, “I’m taller.”

Both Bernal and Medina had tried to up their profiles earlier in the day, Bernal hosting a City Hall press conference Tuesday morning to highlight endorsements from his two former District 1 opponents, Chris Forbrich and Carolyn Kelley, and to receive the blessing of Mayor Julián Castro. Medina, a retired fire fighter, held his own City Hall powwow just an hour later, touting his public safety credentials alongside members of the local police and fire associations.

In personality and experience, the two are certainly different. Bernal, a former civil rights attorney with MALDEF and local musician, repeatedly says his advocacy work primes him for the Council seat. He also resonates loudly with the district’s arts community, and plays it up often – Tuesday night, he proudly said, “I think this city is on the cusp of making itself a world-class arts city.”

Though Medina says a strong arts community is crucial to the city's flavor and economy, he’s clearly more comfortable talking public safety, and says his years of experience in public service, both in the fire department and with neighborhood associations, should distinguish him from Bernal.

But when it comes to talking city policy, the two speak almost in unison. Animal control? Both, unsurprisingly, say it needs to be “revitalized” and beefed up to be effective enough to achieve SA’s no-kill goal. Code enforcement? Ditto. Communication with constituents, they both say, has been appallingly lax for too long and both have vowed to make the District 1 more accessible. The question over whether the city should remain open to further investment in STP's nuclear plants drew a resounding no from both candidates.

Both recognized that voters would need to pass a 2012 bond package to see many of the improvements outlined in countless campaign speeches and in the city’s lofty SA2020 plan. And both took the opportunity to scold both the city manager and city attorney for the recent bond-funded Broadway drainage fiasco, which has landed the City in court. Medina said he hoped the ordeal wouldn’t “leave a bad taste in the mouth” of voters for future bonds, while Bernal said he’d fight the city’s “sharky lawyering” used to defend the city’s actions in court.

On Council’s recent vote to change Durango to Cesar Chavez Boulevard: “Should there be a Cesar Chavez Boulevard? Yes. Did [Council] go about it the right way? No,” said Bernal. Medina nodded his head in agreement before giving his own similar take.

When it became clear on election night that Medina and Bernal would face each other in a runoff, Newsmonger spoke to each, asking, essentially, what sets them apart. Each had glowing words to say of their opponent, then gave the usual "I'm an advocate" or "I've got the experience" line. Each admitted the decision for voters on June 11 could be tough. The gentlemanliness was almost saccharine: “I’ve got to convince people to pick me over another really great guy,” said Bernal, while Medina remarked, “I think District 1 is going to benefit no matter what happens [in the runoff].”

On the way out of the forum Tuesday night, one woman murmured, “Well, either one of ‘em would be better than most of the Council we’ve already got.”

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