Chuck Washington was recently showered with accolades as he made a triumphant return to Temecula City Hall following his appointment nearly six months ago as Riverside County’s newest supervisor.
Washington enjoyed a hero’s homecoming as he was showered with proclamations and a pair of standing ovations. The city even included one of his favorite desserts, lemon bars, in a catered reception that was a highlight of a busy City Council meeting held Aug. 11.
The folksy gathering attracted more than 100 people, a partisan crowd that included his wife, daughter and two grandchildren.
The fanfare unfolded as a second opponent surfaced in Washington’s upcoming bid to hold onto his seat in a sprawling district that has seen its power base shift in recent years from the Hemet area to the Temecula-Murrieta corridor.
The Temecula area’s growing administrative and political prowess prompted longtime Councilwoman Maryann Edwards to quip that her city is squarely on a path of “total world domination.”
That trajectory can be tracked through the career paths of Washington, his supervisorial predecessor and numerous executives who have gone on to interim or permanent posts in Lake Elsinore, Menifee, Hemet, Corona, Santee, Santa Barbara, San Diego and numerous other cities and counties throughout the state.
“The leadership in Temecula has had a great influence in western Riverside County with its elected officials, city managers and staff,” said Shawn Nelson, who worked for Temecula about 21 years as community services manager, interim city manager and then city manager.
“There is definitely a leadership influence that continues to manifest itself,” said Nelson, who formally stepped down as Temecula city manager in December 2011. Nelson subsequently worked as a management consultant for Menifee, and many of his former colleagues have left similar marks in other cities.
Nelson attended the Aug. 11 gathering along with Jim O’Grady, who worked as Temecula’s assistant city manager from 1998 until 2006. Other prominent guests included Peg and Jimmy Moore. He was a leader of the push that resulted in Temecula becoming a city in December 1989. She was elected to the first council.
It was Temecula City Hall alumni Jeff Stone who initiated the round of political musical chairs that fueled Washington’s jump to higher office.
Stone, a longtime Temecula councilman who repeatedly held the post of mayor, was the first official from Southwest Riverside County to be elected to a supervisor’s job. That supervisorial district had previously been held by political leaders from Hemet and other population hubs east of the Interstate 15 corridor.
Stone completed more than two terms as a county supervisor before he was elected to the state Senate on Nov. 4. Washington was one of many hopefuls who sought to fill the remainder of Stone’s term as Third District supervisor.
The county’s third supervisorial district is home to more than 450,000 residents. It stretches from Temecula to San Jacinto and Idyllwild to Anza Borrego Desert State Park. It takes in four cities: Temecula, Murrieta, Hemet and San Jacinto; as well as such far-flung unincorporated communities as Murrieta Hot Springs, French Valley, Winchester, Aguanga, Lake Riverside and Anza.
Gov. Jerry Brown picked Washington in March to succeed Stone on the five-member board. Washington is the only person to be alternately elected to the Murrieta and Temecula city councils. He is also the only African-American to ever serve on either council. He also broke that racial barrier on the countywide board.
While he lived in Murrieta, Washington served on the council from 1995 to 1999 and was mayor for part of that term. Washington moved south into the Temecula community of Meadowview, and he was elected to that council in 2003.
Washington brought to the county a background in the military, business and local government sectors.
Washington served in the Navy from 1981 to 1987. He climbed to the top of his aviation squadron prior to shifting gears and exiting the military. He was then hired as a pilot for Delta Air Lines.
Washington retired from Delta in 2005 as the air carrier spiraled into bankruptcy. He was subsequently hired as vice president of commercial relations at 1st Centennial Bank. He held that post until 2008, and he returned to Delta that same year after the airline brought a small number of pilots out of retirement. He retired again from Delta last year.
Washington has a master’s degree in public administration from National University.
After the Aug. 11 Temecula reception wound down, Washington said he has had a smooth transition from the city to the county. Washington has kept key members of Stone’s former county staff, and he has spent much of his time familiarizing himself with the communities he represents east of I-15.
Temecula City Manager Aaron Adams said he has worked with Washington and his staff on several issues.
“We look at him as a resource on the Board of Supervisors,” Adams said.
O’Grady said it can be helpful for a city to have one of their own be appointed or elected to higher office.
“You’ve got a common base,” O’Grady said. “It’s not like you’re talking to a stranger.”
During Stone’s county tenure, he was credited for spearheading a future blueprint for Temecula Valley’s Wine Country. Washington said that area will also be the focus of much of his attention.
“That’s a carryover from what Jeff was doing,” Washington said. “I have the same love affair for it as a regional resource and asset.”
Washington said he has begun to formulate some ideas for the county.
“I have some things I want to work on in the county that I learned in Temecula – a better road map, a plan,” he said. “We have challenges like every county does. I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Shortly after his appointment to the county board, Washington said he expected one or more prominent local political leaders would challenge him in the upcoming primary race. That prediction has proven to come true as two challengers have already declared their intentions to seek the seat when it becomes vacant in November 2016.
Members of two city councils in the district – Randon Lane and Shellie Milne – have announced their plans to run against Washington.
Lane served on Murrieta’s Planning Commission from 2003 until 2008. He has served on the council since then, and his current terms ends in December 2016. Milne was elected to the Hemet City Council in November 2012. Her council term also ends in December 2016.
Washington downplayed the upcoming campaign at the Temecula gathering, saying it is well in the future and not the focus of his attention now.
But Temecula Mayor Jeff Comerchero couldn’t resist the urge to put in a plug for Washington. He praised Washington during the presentations portions of the event, and told audience members “he’s the guy” when election time rolls around.
There was also a fair amount of politicking during the reception, which was held in the city’s conference center and featured an array of photos of Washington flashing across a pair of video screens.
“I think Chuck is a great person to be county supervisor,” Nelson told a reporter as he prepared to leave the event. “He’s got my vote.”