Temecula Mayor Mike Naggar and challenger Adam Ruiz lead the field in fundraising as a crowded pack of hopefuls scramble for two open council seats.
The uneven surge in donations and loans has given some candidates a marketing edge, but others are relying on name recognition, word-of-mouth and other attention-winning means in the waning days of the Nov. 8 contest.
“I never considered this an easy task,” said Skylar Temple, a college student who is the youngest candidate in the race. He said he was inspired to run for office as a high school student participating in a youth in government program.
“I knew there was going to be some big money moving around in this election,” he said.
He is one of nine candidates, the most in recent years for a Temecula council race.
Temple is one of two candidates in the race who have submitted forms to the city indicating they expect to raise or spend less than $2,000. His counterpart in that category is Jeff Frichner, a businessman, educator and disabled veteran.
The other candidates have spent varying amounts.
Naggar, a development consultant, led the pack with more than $57,000 raised by the close of the most recent reporting period. He also had the most cash on hand – nearly $31,300 – as the candidates enter the final leg of the race.
Ruiz is second, raising more than $29,000 by the close of the reporting period that ended Sept. 24. He is a real estate and mortgage broker who has deep ties to the business community. He had nearly $7,000 left for the final stage of the campaign.
Two incumbents are seeking to return to the council.
One of them, Naggar, has easily won his past re-election bids. The other incumbent, Michael McCracken, may be vulnerable because he was appointed to his seat in April 2015.
McCracken, a city parks commissioner for seven years, is staging his first bid for public office. He reported nearly $4,900 in donations and had $450 left for the close of the campaign.
Unlike most cities in the region, Temecula’s council has experienced scant turnover since it became a city in December 1989. For the most part, Temecula voters have been comfortable returning incumbents to office.
As about 45 candidates can attest, ousting an incumbent has proven to be a rare feat. Just 14 people have served on Temecula’s five-member council over the city’s history.
Only two incumbents – Sam Pratt and Karel Lindemans – have lost a re-election bid since incorporation.
The other current candidates are familiar names or faces around City Hall or the local political scene. They are Ron Bradley, James “Stew” Stewart, Angel Garcia and James Cooley.
Bradley served as Temecula’s city manager from 1994 to 1998 and later as a chairman of its chamber of commerce. His government resume spans more than 45 years following his early work as a police officer. Besides Temecula, he also worked as a city manager or interim manager for La Mesa, Oceanside, Murrieta and Hemet
Bradley raised nearly $12,800. But the bulk of it – $10,000 – was a loan he made to his campaign.
Bradley has garnered key political endorsements, sent frequent emails blast and put out calls for campaign volunteers. He entered the last leg of the campaign with nearly $2,700.
Stewart, who owns a string of barber shops, unsuccessfully ran for the council in 2006 and 2008. Then he switched his political focus and won a seat on the Rancho California Water District governing board. He served one term from 2011 to 2015.
Stewart has not accepted or received any campaign donations, according to his disclosure forms. He had spent $915 of his own money on his campaign before the Sept. 24 reporting deadline.
Garcia finished fourth in the November 2014 council race for three open seats. He owns a marketing company and has been vocal on a range of issues. He raised nearly $2,500 during the initial phase of the campaign and had $625 left for the last stage.
At least four times, Cooley has unsuccessfully applied for positions on Temecula commissions. He is Navy veteran who holds advanced degrees and is active in many community groups. He serves as nonprofit’s chief executive and president.
Cooley donated $10,100 to his council campaign. He entered the final segment of the race with $6,500.
Besides the large field of candidates, several new political alliances and wrinkles have surfaced in this campaign.
Bernie Truax, a prominent Old Town developer and property owner, has established himself as a political presence.
He loaned $17,500 to Ruiz’s campaign and donated $300 to McCracken. Truax also held meet-the-candidate events for Ruiz and Bradley at top of his signature Old Town building.
Bradley hired a political marketing firm that is headed by Lori Stone, the sister of state Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Murrieta. Bradley’s campaign materials show him shaking hands with Sen. Stone, who launched his political career from the Temecula council.