More than Forty Years of Public Service
By Kristin Kjaero and Miriam Raftery
In part three of this series on election races in La Mesa, East County Magazine spotlights incumbent Mayor Art Madrid. For this series we asked all candidates the same set of questions based on local issues, with an open invitation to bring up anything else they would like to discuss at the end of the session.
September 6, 2010 (La Mesa) – Ask Mayor Art Madrid about La Mesa and he sounds like a father, proud of his hometown and full of visions for the City’s future.
“Being Mayor is really a full time job," he told East County Magazine. "You can't run or provide leadership to an organization with a total budget $122 million on a part time basis," he said, explaining that the key to getting things done is to “establish professional relationships with the organizations that do the funding.”
Accomplishments cited by Madrid during his 20 years at the City's helm include:
- La Mesa’s “Live Well Initiative” is nationally recognized by the National League of Cities and the National Association of School Superintendents, for its commitment to provide walkability programs, and encourage healthy diets in the midst of a child obesity epidemic.
- The City’s innovative “Rides4Neighbors” program, for which the City received $700,000 in grants from SANDAG and the Grossmont Healthcare District, is a model being studied by other jurisdictions to provide transportation to seniors and the homebound.
- The City has received state transportation grants over $2.5 million which it has used for its “Safe Routes to School” program, to provide safe sidewalks and educational programs.
- A 2 1/4 acre Community Garden is in the planning stages. The City is a leasing site found by Madrid across from Maryland Avenue Elementary, in perpetuity for one dollar a year, with an eye to eventually finding more sites around the City.
- A long needed elevator is being built at the Grossmont Transit Station with a grant from SANDAG and a public-private partnership.
- A task force steering committee of owners in the Village was formed, which has decided to bring forward the concept of a Property Business Improvement District (similar to those in Little Italy and Adams Avenue) for a vote among property owners.
- La Mesa residents have new public safety facilities in the new Fire and Police stations, retrofitted Fire Station #11, thanks to residents passing Prop D.
- Most importantly, in contrast to many other cities, La Mesa has maintained a balanced budget without cuts to services or staff, is actually growing reserves, and has led the way reaching agreement on a two-tiered pension system with two of three employee groups in an effort to head off a pending structural deficit. (The remaining group comes up for negotiations in the spring).
Madrid has been Mayor since 1990 and served on the City Council since 1981. In a 2001 reference to his many years of service, the San Diego Business Journal dubbed Madrid "The Dean of Local Politics."
Although it is designated as a "part time" position, he estimates that he spends 60-70 hours per week on City business and local, regional, state, or national organizations from which he identifies potential grants and resources for staff to pursue for projects like the aforementioned.
The Future: Quality of Life Standards and a Vision for the Village
Madrid listed several priorities as the City prepares to celebrate its Centennial.
“Public safety is uppermost in our minds, and we want to address potholes in as timely a manner as efficiently possible,” he said.
Quality of life is a high priority, he added. “Standards here in La Mesa are second to none, and we want to continue to enhance them so people will keep wanting to raise their families here.”
The Village has not had any physical improvements since the late 1970’s, and, like all the City candidates ECM interviewed, he would like to see it spruced up.
Madrid has frequently referred to the Village the heart of the City, and told ECM the he would “never change the character or culture, or community standards.”
He describes his vision for the village as “The same Village with enhanced ambiance and a greater variety of things to do; like what you do with your house, to make it more livable.” He lists Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Little Italy as examples of the kind of vital community hub he would like to see.
For many years Madrid has contacted businesses to encourage them to relocate here. “A lot of people share our vision, and have made millions of dollars of investments in buying and upgrading buildings,” he said.
The Mayor cites Randall Lamb for refurbished a historical building in the Village and bringing 45 jobs to the city, Millicent and Company hair salon for bringing about 55 employees, and Turpin & Rattan Engineering with another 40 or so employees.
“Gio’s has made a significant investment and is now a destination point for East County. These are some of the things that happen when you talk to people,” he said.
A Lifetime Under Public Scrutiny
When you run for an elected position, you will be subjected to public scrutiny. Madrid, who began public life as a high school class president in a tiny town, has long been aware of this.
Amid a decades-long career of public service with mostly-positive press, two highly publicized incidents generated controversy.
In 2006, La Mesa resident Chris Tanner implied at a televised Council meeting that the Council and Mayor had allowed ordinances to be violated because of a developer. The City Attorney sent Tanner a letter informing him that there would be a closed Council session to discuss potential litigation for defamation, unless he apologized. When Tanner showed up at the next Council meeting with TV cameras and an attorney claiming that his First Amendment rights had been violated, the Council apologized - except Madrid, who offered to personally escort Tanner to the District Attorney’s office if charges should be brought against anyone for collusion. Tanner did not file charges; neither Tanner nor Madrid ever apologized. The Mayor views the issue as one of civic responsibility. “Freedom of speech is not crying fire in a public theater,” he said. Madrid’s was criticized for his stance by his opponents in the last election, but Madrid won handily.
The second incident occurred in 2008, when police received a call and found Madrid and a City employee intoxicated on a city street. He had met with friends that evening to commemorate the anniversary of his son’s death at age 18 from cancer, then accepted a ride home. New police officers, who did not recognize Madrid, escorted him to his house a block away since he had not been driving. A challenger whom Madrid defeated in the 2006 election, Craig Maxwell, tipped off the San Diego Union-Tribune and extensive media coverage ensued. Madrid apologized publicly, called the incident humiliating, and promised it would never happen again. The next month, his companion was charged with drunk driving in the incident. Maxwell claimed Madrid received preferential treatment, but an independent investigation comparing similar cases cleared the Police Department. The Union-Tribune summed up a packed Council meeting this way: “Indeed, supporters outnumbered critics more than 2-to-1 at a council hearing Thursday to explore whether Madrid received preferential treatment. Madrid wiped away tears as supporters expressed their gratitude. Angry residents got their shots in, but it wasn't the mob it might have been.”
In response to ECM’s questions about the incident, Madrid again expressed his regret. “I have apologized repeatedly to my family, residents, and the city. But I have 40 plus years of involvement, and one incident in 40 years does not define who I am.”
ECM conducts routine background checks of all candidates running for higher offices. A check of court and county records on Madrid turned up one item, a 2007 default on a home. Asked for an explanation, Madrid said he listened to experts who advised missing payments to expedite a refinance, however, after receiving a default notice he made the payments and the default was released.
What does the Mayor do?
If a man is defined by what he does, then, what exactly does the Mayor do?
Madrid represents the City regionally and nationally on numerous organizations, including 23 years on the Board SANDAG, of which he is a past Chairman, and currently sits on its Transportation and Policy Committees. He serves on the State Board of the League of California Cities and its Tribal Task Force, and is past Chair of its San Diego Division. He is past president of the California Association of Councils of Government (CALCOG). He is a member of the National League of Cities, Energy, Environment and Natural Resources (EENR) Steering task force, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Committee.
Highlights of his lengthy public service history include Commissioner of the State of California Fair Employment and Housing Commission, past Chair of the State of California Veterans Board, the San Diego Regional Airport Authority, the boards of Metropolitan Transit Development (MTDB) and Grossmont Community College Foundation, advisory boards to the Chancellor of UCSD and President of SDSU, the County’s Charter Review Commission and U.S./Mexico Border Task Force, as well as four La Mesa Commissions.
Madrid has also volunteered in numerous community service organizations, including positions on the boards of the Make a Wish Foundation, the San Diego Hospice, the United Way, the Old Globe Theater, the San Diego Children’s Museum, and the San Diego Burn Institute Advisory Board. He is Past Chair of the American Red Cross of San Diego and Imperial Counties, and past Vice President of the Cancer Society of San Diego and Imperial Counties.
Madrid was born and raised in New Mexico and came to La Mesa just after high school at the age of seventeen. He joined the Marines right after the Korean War and was stationed in Japan, entering as a private and rising to Sergeant.
“My values and principles were honed by my parents, parochial school, drill instructors and the Marine Corp,” he said.
The Mayor had a career at Pacific Bell for 35 years, of which 33 were in management. He started by delivering mail, and spent the last 17 years as their Director of Government Relations. He retired in December 1991, and has worked full time since as the Mayor of La Mesa.
For more information, visit his website here.
For more stories in our La Mesa Spotlight series, see:
Full disclosure: Kristin Kjaero covers the La Mesa beat for East County Magazine and has in-depth knowledge of the City’s issues. She has previously run for City Council, when she received numerous endorsements, including Madrid. Kjaero disclosed this past tie to editor Miriam Raftery, a national award-winning journalist who agreed to coauthor the articles on both Mayoral candidates to assure fair treatment while utilizing Kjaero’s expertise on La Mesa.