Voters will pick District 7 councilman on Tuesday
Correction: Story updated to accurately reflect Wilson’s former status at Innovate Pasadena.
If history is an indicator, candidate Phil Hosp is at a distinct disadvantage in the District 7 City Council runoff election race against sitting Councilman Andy Wilson.
Since the city’s Board of City Directors changed its name to the City Council in 1997, no incumbent has been unseated by a challenger.
“I’m running because I think residents need a bigger say in what’s going on here in the city,” Hosp told the Pasadena Weekly.
The City Council appointed Wilson to finish the remaining two years of Terry Tornek’s term after Tornek was elected mayor in 2015.
Since that time, Wilson has been a key player in several important issues, including the city’s minimum wage ordinance, its Styrofoam ban, the general plan and lately a resolution that reinforces the city’s promise that city employees will not perform immigration enforcement duties for federal authorities.
The winner of the election will have to help the council close a $3.8 million budget gap, a process which could lead to layoffs and program cuts.
District 7 covers much of the affluent neighborhoods south of Colorado Boulevard, bordered to the west by Arroyo Parkway and San Gabriel Boulevard to the east, which includes South Lake Avenue, Pasadena City College, Caltech and the Pasadena Playhouse, among other institutions.
Former Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, who is supporting Wilson, said “Council members have performed solidly without undue controversy so there is a level of satisfaction in the community about the council members.” But at the same time, he said, “maybe the level of attention given to elections by voters is not at the level we would all like.”
Despite the poor track records of challengers in the past, Hosp still had a strong showing in the March primary election, finishing neck and neck with Wilson atop a field of five candidates.
Of the total 3,528 ballots cast in that race by roughly a third of the district’s 10,087 registered voters, Wilson finished with 1,501 votes (42.5 percent) to 1,459 (41.35 percent) of the total ballots cast — a difference of 41 votes.
Alejandro Menchaca finished with 309 votes, Bryan Witt had 159 supporters and Sheena Tahilramani took an even 100 votes.
Since no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote getters — Hosp and Wilson — moved to Tuesday’s runoff election.
Given the low turnout in the primary, political observers don’t expect nearly as many people casting ballots in Tuesday’s contest.
When it comes to fundraising, Wilson appears to be more adept than Hosp, who has collected some $85,000 in contributions, compared to the nearly $175,000 raised by Wilson’s campaign.
But just as Hosp has raised questions about Wilson’s financial reporting practices, Wilson points to Hosp’s lack of experience at serving on municipal panels like the Planning Commission and other city volunteer boards.
Before his appointment to the District 7 seat, Wilson served on the Planning, Design and Urban Forestry commissions. He also served on the Pasadena Center Operating Co. (PCOC) board of directors and currently serves on both the Municipal Services and the Economic Development and Technology (Edtech) committees of the City Council.
Wilson is endorsed by Tornek, Bogaard, Council members Victor Gordo, Steve Madison and John Kennedy, as well as state Assemblyman and former councilman Chris Holden.
Hosp is endorsed by the United Teachers of Pasadena (UTP), former mayors Bill Thomson and Bill Paparian and former District 7 candidate and former LAPD Deputy Chief Peggy York.
During the campaign, Wilson failed to report political contributions on time, including one report in which he should have disclosed $16,500 in donations. He was fined $365 by the state Fair Political Practices Commission. But that isn’t Hosp’s only problem with Wilson. Shortly before being fined, Wilson was asked to explain why he used his city email account when applying for executive director positions with both the Tournament of Roses Association and the Burbank/Glendale/Pasadena Airport Authority. Both jobs would have forced Wilson to step down from the council due to conflicts of interest.
Wilson told the Weekly that he was not attempting to conceal his job search and applied for the positions prior to deciding to run for a full four years.
“This was before I decided I was going to run,” Wilson said. “I needed to know what I was giving up, so I went out to educate myself. It was a timing issue. I was still exploring the possibilities. It was the homework I did before I pulled papers to run for council.”
Wilson, who refers to himself as a “serial entrepreneur,” stepped down from the executive committee of Innovate Pasadena, a nonprofit that supports economic growth through technology, after he was appointed to the council, but remains on the group’s board of directors. The nonprofit received $95,000 from the city in 2013, prior to Wilson’s selection for Tornek’s seat. A year after coming to office, Innovate Pasadena received $27,500 from the city’s 2016-17 fiscal year budget.
Wilson, who said the expenditure was not on a line item, cast a vote approving the budget without knowing that expenditure was part of it. Hosp said questions like those surrounding such expenditures are some of the reasons why voters should choose him.
“I am willing to listen and represent residents and advocate for positions that are in their interests,” Hosp said. “I have no ties to developers and I don’t chair a nonprofit that receives city funding. I will also make sure the community is engaged. I’m willing to listen and I am willing to talk to anybody.”
Hosp has pledged to make development projects open to the public and has rejected campaign contributions and endorsements from developers and architects with projects before the city.
But Hosp lacks City Hall experience in Pasadena. The attorney, who received the Bronze Star during two terms in Iraq, has only served on the Veteran’s Day Committee, and, according to Wilson, there is no record of him speaking at a public meeting.
“If I had to tell him one thing, I would tell him this is a city where people need to serve,” Wilson said of his opponent. “He just moved back here from Santa Monica and has never served on anything, and he is not on the record as having spoken at a public meeting.”
On the issues, Wilson and Hosp actually are not that far apart.
Both men support less development, and neither wants the city to perform duties for officials with US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“I’m about building bridges, not walls,” Wilson told the Weekly. “Our diversity is only good if we acknowledge it and embrace it. The best solutions come from having an open funnel and listening to a wide variety of people and having an objective view.”
Wilson said the city must first work through its budget deficit. He expressed strong support for keeping well-trained police officers in town.
Hosp, who supports hiring more police, said he does not support an independent citizens’ commission to hold police accountable.
“It’s the job of the City Council members, who are [accountable] to the voters, to make sure the police are doing their job well,” Hosp said. “I oversaw soldiers and enforced rules of engagement. I am fully comfortable in that position as well as working with the police. We need someone who is going to be accountable to voters rather than introducing more bureaucratic red tape or a person who is pro-police or anti-police using an appointed spot for their platform.”
According to Hosp, development is the issue that has come up over and over as he talks to District 7 residents.
“They don’t feel like their interests are being represented,” he said of some district residents. “They see their city going in a direction where they and their neighbors don’t want it to go. I’ve been walking for six months and the development issue has been by far the largest issue. Part of that is because people don’t feel like they have a say.”
Wilson has identified traffic as the district’s biggest issue and points out most people blame development for the traffic, even though most of the projects are not occurring in the district.
He also said he is ready to roll up his sleeves and help eliminate the city’s budget deficit.
“Things seem to be going very well at the top of the line,” Wilson said. “But you have this hole in the bathtub which is the CalPERS (California Public Employee Retirement System) obligations. That puts lots of pressure on services.”
According to Wilson, there is no silver bullet to solve the city’s budget woes. The city, he said, simply has to make sure it is getting what it is owed in terms of revenue, protect the right services and make sure departments are running effectively.
Hosp said the city must deal with personnel, something he called the “ultimate elephant in the room.”
However, he said, “The biggest interest in the city is citywide people are not happy with the way the city is being developed because it is making it harder for them to get around. It is making it harder for them to [conduct] their daily lives. It takes them longer to get from one part of the city to the other.”