With several major endorsements from public safety unions and political clubs and a growing campaign fund, Joe DeAnda, a lifelong West Sacramento resident and CalPERS communications manager, is now widely considered the leading challenger against 20-year incumbent mayor Christopher Cabaldon, a well-known figure in both local politics and national political circles.
Esther Moskalets, a retired Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department employee, is also running for the position, though she said she is intentionally not receiving outside campaign donations to avoid being beholden to “political interests.”
The last time Cabaldon was challenged was in 2014 (the mayor is elected to two-year terms), but Greg Potnick, a former mayor and City Council member of West Sacramento, and a candidate himself in the 2010 mayoral race, said DeAnda stands a better chance at winning than any other person who has run against the longtime city leader.
“This is the most competitive race in West Sacramento that has ever happened,” said DeAnda supporter Jeff Henry, a former planning commissioner and former West Sacramento Chamber of Commerce board of director. “This is the single best challenger that West Sacramento has put forward.”
Recent campaign filings show DeAnda’s campaign has raised nearly $18,500, a sizable amount compared to the incumbent’s $23,100. By the end of the 2010 campaign, Potnick, who garnered the highest percentage of votes among challengers over the last 20 years, had raised about $27,700 in monetary contributions compared to Cabaldon’s $34,000.
At a mayoral forum hosted by the city’s Chamber of Commerce Thursday night, the candidates offered their differing versions of the West Sacramento they see today, and the one they hope to lead if elected.
Cabaldon reassured residents that West Sacramento, which did not secure federal money this summer for flood protection even as neighboring Sacramento won nearly $1.8 billion, was next in line for funds. DeAnda argued that the City Council converting an existing independent body overseeing the maintenance of the levees and drainage systems into a subsidiary of the city puts the city at a greater liability. Moskalets pleaded with residents not to pass the November ballot Measure N, a quarter-cent sales tax that she says will be mishandled by the city: “Just like you, my pockets are pretty empty.”
It’s a frustration that DeAnda says has been growing for several months, if not years. Sitting at a Sacramento cafe late last month, he spoke with an even tone that belied his exasperation.
“It got really frustrating to see the same approach – that the people elected you into office and be summarily dismissed,” DeAnda said. “It drove me to do this, this feeling that the citizens of West Sacramento should be much more involved and provide more feedback about the city.”
Moskalets voiced similar concerns. Too animated to eat the hot plate of French toast in front of her, she asked why police officers and firefighters still don’t have salaries comparable to neighboring cities, but the city is willing to build a trail rest-stop water station near local schools that she worries would invite “prowlers.”
They all offer different visions of the very identity of West Sacramento. It’s a blue-collar suburban town, DeAnda said, where everyone shops at the same local Nugget Markets grocery store and, on weekends, families send their kids to the recreational youth soccer leagues. The city prioritizes “nice visual things” over the more simple wants and needs of the neighborhoods, he said – paying public safety officers more, fixing the roads, protecting against floods.
“Some criticism I’ve gotten is I’m trying to go back to the ‘good ol’ days,’ but I’m just saying to listen to people, and to make sure the fundamentals are taken care of,” DeAnda said.
“I look at it like a house. … If it’s a really big house but you didn’t take the time to do the foundations, and it doesn’t matter how cool and great the house looks,” DeAnda said.
For Moskalets, the city is divided between the haves of Southport and the have-nots of Bryte and Broderick. She said both DeAnda and Cabaldon are out of touch with the average West Sacramentan — “we’re the underdogs,” she said, “working every day, providing for families to get kids fed ... not living in massive homes.”
But Cabaldon sees a city of and about opportunity. At the newly opened La Crosta Pizza Bar, Cabaldon described West Sacramento as a fast-growing “new urban destination” that still embraces its working-class history and long-time residents. It’s a “live and let live city” that prides itself on the new projects put forth by the local government: he touts the Jump bikes that now dot the streets and the Via rideshare company that provides on-demand public transit for locals as proof.
Attracting grant money with creative ideas – and what critics may call “flashy” at best and “vanity project” at worst – is critical to compensate for the fiscal pressures weighing on the city’s slim budget to invest in the basics, according to Cabaldon.. The Barn, a major entertainment venue near Raley Field, and the proposed 4-mile streetcar rail line from West Sacramento to Sacramento are heralded by Cabaldon and his supporters potentially huge economic drivers for the city,
Critics such as Henry pan the projects as money-wasting efforts to “build a utopian dream of a car-less society” that’s ill-suited for the largely suburban town.
“You have to have both” Cabaldon said. Given the growing pension costs the city must pay, “if we don’t innovate … we’re gonna be in a death spiral.”
The perspective is shared by Oscar Villegas, a county supervisor and a supporter of Cabaldon.
“There is no line item for dealing the issue of homelessness and or mental health,” Villegas said. “You’re taking the dollar now and trying to spread and make it pay for $5 in services.”
Still, some critics say, Cabaldon’s lengthy tenure alone makes him unqualified for the position once more.
“After 20 years of accumulating that kind of power and control you lack (the sense of) discussion and community,” Henry said.
And his past unsuccessful runs for an Assembly seat has left some dissenters feeling like Cabaldon is more focused on higher aspirations than the role of mayor. Still, City Councilwoman Quirina Orozco said Cabaldon’s two decades of leadership have put West Sacramento on a successful path that has made it the “envy” of cities of its size nationwide.
“I can understand them in terms of needing a fresh perspective, but this person has used his years of experience to change this city for the better and he does it for $300 a month,” said city councilwoman Quirina Orozco.
With Election Day just a month away, there’s a wrinkle for DeAnda: He will defend himself in small claims court on Oct. 18 against a claim by West Sacramento resident Adam Gardizi, who bought a home from DeAnda and said the candidate left trash, unfinished repairs and unpaid bills behind. DeAnda denies the allegations and said he’s confident the claims will be dismissed. Gardizi said he does not remember if he voted for Cabaldon in 2016, but recently attended one of his campaign events and said he plans to vote for him. Gardizi’s fiancée, Adela Bartek, donated $500 to Cabaldon’s mayoral campaign last week, according to its finance disclosure forms.
Cabaldon in 2008 faced a dust-up of his own: During his unsuccessful run against then-Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada for the 8th Assembly District seat, The Bee reported, Cabaldon’s car was booted in downtown Sacramento for too many unpaid parking tickets — just as his rival’s campaign manager was driving by, who would later alert the media. Cabaldon explained that he had accumulated the tickets while doing public business and unintentionally forgot about them. He paid $567 in fines and said he would devote more time to his personal affairs in the future.