By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor
Photo by Jesse Kendrick: Mayor Wells and Councilman Kendrick savor Election Night victories
November 7, 2018 (El Cajon)--El Cajon voters returned Mayor Bill Wells and Councilma/Mayor Pro Tem Gary Kendrick to their positions on the El Cajon City Council on Tuesday night with veritable knockout punches against their challengers.
With 86 percent of precincts reporting, incumbent Mayor Bill Wells maintained his lead all evening with 66% (7799 votes) while his challenger, East County businessman Joel A. Scalzitti garnered only 26% (3064 votes). Robert M. Weaver, Jr., in spite of dropping out of the race early and not mounting a campaign because of federal Hatch Act conflicts with his position with the federal government, garnered 8% of the vote with 905 votes.
With nearly 88% precincts reporting, Councilman Kendrick was successful in staving off a challenge from fellow Councilman Ben Kalasho by a landslide. Kendrick got a whopping 85% (3408 votes) with Kalasho only getting 15% (621 votes).
Despite the election upset, however, Kalasho will remain on the council for the remaining two years of his term for his existing seat, which he was elected to in the last city-wide contest in 2016. Kendrick, who has been on the city council since 2000, will serve until 2022. This was the first election since the City of El Cajon followed a voter-approved state mandate in Nov. 2016 and established specific districts. In Jan. 2017, the City Council initiated a process to adopt a City Council District Boundary Map and adopted it as an ordinance in June 2017.
Kalasho had been expected to run against Wells in the mayoral race, but papers at the last minute instead to run for the newly-created Dist. 1 council seat against Kendrick, since both live in the Grossmont-Fletcher Hills area.
While Scalzitti’s prominent red-and-white signs were posted throughout the city of El Cajon streets and byways vs. Wells’ low-key campaign which focused on using campaign mailers, most attention was focused on the race between Kendrick and Kalasho.
Early on in the campaign, the Kendrick/Kalasho race experienced movie-like drama along the way, including videos of Kalasho at the wheel of his golf cart pursuing Kendrick’s golf cart on the campaign trail on the streets of their district. One of the incidents involved Kendrick’s son and campaign manager, Jesse, who reported a threatening pursuit to the El Cajon Police. In a similar incident, Councilman Kendrick himself ended up filing a report which resulted in El Cajon Police Chief Jeff Davis calling Kalasho and advising him to quit harassing Councilman Kendrick with the golf cart.
Kendrick’s campaign included both mailers focused on his positive accomplishments as well as hard-hitting mailers and flyers focused on Kalasho’s serious legal and ethical challenges. Kalasho is in the midst of a civil trial over sexual harassment and defamation claims, with a judge deeming “true” a substantial body of factual evidence. Kalasho also had to deal with revelations by ECM that he was still under probation during most of his campaign, after he pled guilty to criminal workers’ compensation fraud in connection with his Santee car wash business prior to his 2016 election.
Kalasho, 35, who was born in Iraq and immigrated with his family to the United States. He was elected initially with backing from the Democratic Party, running as a reform candidate seeking to be a voice for the people, against what he characterized as old-boys Republican leadership.
But Kalasho recently left the Democratic party and ran this time as a no-party-affiliated candidate His campaign this time took a conservative tack echoing President Donald Trump’s “America first” slogan. This drew criticism from the left. In his ballot statement he wrote in part, “I know that most Fletcher Hills & Grossmont residents shop in Santee or La Mesa. Why? Because it’s safer, cleaner & still feels like you’re in America. If re-elected, I promise to hire 3 new Police Patrols for Fletcher Hills and Grossmont areas. Ensuring safety and security while protecting your home values. I don’t care about party politics, it’s a waste of time. I am looking to the future. I am American first. Are you?”
Kalasho was also criticized by the East County Chamber of Commerce for identifying himself as “president of the chamber of commerce” when he chairs his own privately-owned Middle Eastern Chamber of Commerce.
The campaign between Mayor Wells and Scalzitti was mild-mannered in comparison, with Wells focused on his record of improving the city’s financial stability and Scalzitti indicating he hoped to focus on crime, homelessness and water issues if elected. Scalzitti will continue serving East County residents as an elected member of the Helix Water District board.
The City Council terms of Councilmen Steve Goble, Bob McClellan, and Kalasho will all end in December 2020.
McClellan has stated to East County Magazine that he will not seek re-election when his term expires.
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