A rare feat will occur in Temecula in November when at least one political newcomer will be elected to the City Council. Three residents are vying for that elusive distinction.
A narrow field of five candidates will compete for three council seats that are up for grabs at the polls. But the vast name recognition and political strength of two longtime incumbents – Jeff Comerchero and Maryann Edwards – may keep two of the three open seats out of reach of the challengers.
A recent retirement announcement by Councilman Ron Roberts has set the stage for the election of one newcomer. Roberts’ exodus will also leave big shoes to fill, as he took office in 1992 and has served a record five terms as Temecula’s mayor.
The three challengers – Angel Garcia, Cecilie Nelson and Matt Rahn – candidly acknowledge that it would be tough to defeat Edwards or Comerchero. But each challenger is upbeat over their prospects of winning a seat at the dais.
Garcia was the lone candidate to identify the need for specific changes or council actions in a ballot statement. In phone interviews, Edwards and Comerchero rejected many of Garcia’s contentions and said there are no hot button city issues this time around.
The need to raise the abundant funds required to circulate the candidates messages will also factor large in the race. Spending on some past individual council campaigns has approached $30,000, and the cost of mailers, web sites, advertising and social media can quickly add up for candidates.
“I think my chances are just as good as anyone else’s,” said Garcia, a business and marketing consultant who was edged out by a trio of incumbents when he ran for a Temecula school board seat four years ago.
Along those lines, Nelson said she will take all the steps needed to ensure victory.
“I’m not entering this lightly,” said Nelson, a Temecula-area Realtor.
Rahn, a key figure in a decade-long development clash, said he is optimistic about November’s outlook.
“I have to say, it’s looking pretty good,” said Rahn, who splits his time as a university academic and research director and the owner of a company that consults on land use planning and policy issues.
At least one of those challengers will crack into an exclusive group. The council – despite decades-long growth and traffic issues – has had few new faces since Temecula became a city in December 1989 and roughly quadrupled its population.
As nearly 45 candidates can attest, defeating Temecula council incumbents has proven to be an almost impossible task.
In all, just 13 people have served on Temecula’s five-member council over the city’s history. On the flip side, 44 other residents have lost one or more council races, according to city records.
At the time of the Nov. 4 election, the five current council members will together have served more than 65 years, according to city records.
Only two incumbents – Karel Lindemans and Sam Pratt – have lost a re-election bid since Temecula became a city.
Lindemans was elected to the first council when Temecula became a city. He failed to win re-election in November 1992, which is when Roberts and Jeff Stone were picked by voters. Peg Moore, another member of the original council, did not seek re-election then because she planned to move out of state.
Lindemans returned to the council in November 1994. He served for another five years before opting not to seek re-election and move to the Palm Springs area. He eventually died there. Lindemans’ exit was followed by the council arrival of Sam Pratt, an equally-colorful political presence.
Pratt served one quixotic term on the council before he lost his re-election bid in November 2003. He moved out of state two years later to live near relatives.
Stone was later elected to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, a post he still holds. Roberts continued to serve on the council, and in July announced that he would not seek re-election.
In recent years, Roberts, Comerchero, Edwards and other incumbents have deftly defeated a string of challengers that included several high-profile business and community leaders.
Comerchero served on the city’s Community Services Commission for about four years before he was elected to the council in 1997. He has served three terms as mayor, a largely ceremonial post that rotates within the council.
Comerchero is 67 years old and married with two sons. He works as a development executive for a branch of Rancon Real Estate. His city biography lists more than two dozen government or community leadership roles. It also cites about a dozen key objectives that he has helped achieve or are part of an ongoing process.
In his candidate statement, Comerchero cites the city’s high quality of life and low crime and unemployment rates. The statement also points out an array of Temecula traffic improvements, its new hospital, a pair of museums, a community theater and scores of parks and other public amenities.
“This takes a conscious effort and our success is something to be proud of,” Comerchero declares in his candidate statement.
In a telephone interview, Comerchero said he wants to remain involved as a pair of freeway improvement projects unfold and a sprawling development plan west of Old Town winds its way through the approval process.
“Every time I think about not running, interesting things start to happen,” Comerchero said. “I want to see them through. I want to leave when the job is finished or at least close to it. I’m not quite ready yet.”
Edwards is the only current council member to shift from another elected panel.
Edwards was an appointed member of Temecula’s Traffic / Public Safety Commission from 1998 until 2001, which is when she was elected to the Temecula Valley Unified School District governing board. She was appointed to the council in 2005, and has repeatedly won re-election.
Edwards, 59, is winding down her second term as mayor. She has lived in Temecula since 1988, is married and has children and one grandchild. She works as the chief executive of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest County. Her city biography lists about 20 public and community service posts she has held. It also cites several awards and key objectives and accomplishments over the years.
In her candidate statement, Edwards notes her pride in “the safe, beautiful and vibrant city that Temecula is today.”
Edwards, too, identifies some development plans and other goals that she wants to bring to fruition over the next four years.
“There are so many exciting things going on,” Edwards said in a recent telephone interview.
Garcia graduated from Great Oak High School and he describes himself as a 20-year Temecula resident who graduated from the University of California, Riverside, with a bachelor’s degree. He ran for the school board in November 2010, but lost when voters returned three incumbents to their seats.
His candidate statement lists four priorities. He has targeted “City Council perks” and calls for term limits and the elimination of a pair of council reimbursement practices. He is calling for council members and key staff members to periodically hold neighborhood meetings to gather resident input. He calls for a “complete and thorough audit” of the city’s employee pension obligations.
Garcia said some of the city’s growth over the past two decades has been positive, but some has not been beneficial. His candidate statement stresses the need for “common sense leadership.”
In a telephone interview, Garcia said he is a part owner of a marketing and business outreach consulting firm. He is single and declined to state his age.
Garcia said he is running to ensure that the city is “accountable, transparent and easily accessible” to its residents and businesses.
Nelson describes herself as a residential and commercial realtor who has lived in Temecula for six years. Before that, she lived in Murrieta and Chicago. Much of Nelson’s candidate statement tells how her business, communications and other skills would be an asset to the council. Nelson also details her educational achievements, which she said includes two master’s degrees and extensive appearances as a moderator, panelist and presenter.
Nelson, 43, said she is married and has no children. She said her work as secretary of the 1,800-home Wolf Creek homeowners association whetted her desire to roll up her sleeves and plunge into city issues and polices. She believes the council has done “a good job” over the years.
“I just like to raise my hand,” she said in a telephone interview. “If there’s something that needs to be done, I raise my hand.”
She said her work in the real estate industry has given her a well-rounded approach toward economics, the importance of good schools, the impact of taxes and fees and the need to carefully plan the future of Temecula’s dwindling open parcels.
“I’m looking for a way to be part of the larger picture,” she said.
Rahn burnished his grassroots credentials during a decade-long fight in which the city, environmental activists, the Pechanga Indian tribe and San Diego State University battled plans to open a granite quarry south of the city.
The university, which employs Rahn, frequently complained that the quarry would impact a vast ecological reserve that it maintains along the Santa Margarita River. The development plan evaporated after the Pechanga tribe abruptly purchased the mine site and land around it for $20.35 million in November 2012.
If elected, Rahn would likely have more advanced academic degrees than any other council member in the city’s history. His candidate statement lists his bachelor’s, master’s, law and doctorate degrees. It notes that Temecula “is at a crossroads,” and Rahn said he has the background and the range of training and skills needed to help guide the city over the next 25 years.
Rahn began working in the Temecula area in 2000 when he was assigned to the Santa Margarita reserve and field station. He moved to the city in 2010. He is 39, married, and has a stepdaughter. He said the use of neighborhood “listening sessions” will be a key part of his campaign, and such outings would be continued by the council if he is elected.
Rahn said in a telephone interview that the council has done “an admirable job” over the years. He said he has “tackled some of the most consequential challenges that have faced our region,” and said his unique background can bring new leadership and insights to the council.
“I firmly believe Temecula’s best days are ahead,” Rahn said.