As Oceanside City Council candidates go, Greg Marcum realized soon enough, he was off the mark.
The youngest of 17 wanna-be's for two open City Council seats, Marcum figured on marketing his age--21--to capture the support of his peers. And one of his major gripes, he campaigned, was the lack of entertainment opportunities in Oceanside.
Quickly enough, he discovered two political realities: He couldn't count on people his age to vote, and the ones who did promise to vote--the folks in the mobile home parks and the senior citizen communities--weren't exactly on the prowl for places to hang out on Saturday night.
So Marcum adjusted his campaign strategy and aligned himself with the pack. Now he and virtually everyone else running for City Council are talking about the same issues these days:
The city needs to expand its tax-revenue base by attracting new businesses to town.
To do that, it needs to clean up its sorry image, justified or not, as a blue-collar town, maligned because of its Marines, tawdry because of its prostitutes and afraid because of gangs and drugs.
To change that image, the city needs to put more cops on the street.
To pay for that, it needs to expand its tax-revenue base . . .
Some candidates are focusing primarily on the need for more businesses. Others talk primarily of needing more cops. Others say that improving the city's image is Job One.
But everyone agrees that the answer to fixing Oceanside is hiding somewhere within that vicious circle. Marcum's thing is crime: Get more cops on the street, and everything else will fall into place.
"There aren't any issues that really divide the people," said Marcum, a history major at Cal State San Marcos who is working toward his teaching credential. If he wins, he says, he can serve full time and delay graduation.
"You'd think, with this many candidates, there would be an issue that would cut the candidates down the middle," Marcum said. "But there aren't. Some people are trying. They talk about whether we're pro-choice or whether we'd support the gay civil rights bill. That's absurd, because we don't have control over issues like that."
So the challenge for voters in this city of 138,000 is to figure who among 24 candidates--17 for two council seats and seven more for mayor--can best solve the problems that everyone agrees exist.
The majority of candidates have never before run for City Council. It's one thing for the candidates to persuade voters to buy into their platform, and another thing to get voters to believe that they will be able to deliver, given their lack of public track records.
The mayor's race is somewhat more easily defined than the race for the two other council seats because the three mayoral candidates considered to be front-runners have public profiles.
The current mayor, Larry Bagley, is retiring after 12 years on the job, saying he is frustrated by what he calls the meddling of Councilwoman Melba Bishop in the day-to-day operations of City Hall. He'd rather fish in Utah, Bagley said, than battle Bishop over her "micro-management" of City Hall.
The front-runners to succeed him are Don Rodee, a commercial airline pilot who is halfway through his first council term but is running for top dog with Bishop's blessing; Ben Ramsey, who served on the City Council from 1986 to 1990 and is remembered for the time he chaired a council meeting and banged the gavel so hard he broke it, and Dick Lyon, a retired Navy two-star reserve admiral and former 1940 Olympics swimming champion who is president of the Oceanside school board.
Lyon says his strength is in executive-level leadership; as chief of Naval reserves from 1978-81, he administered a $1.5-billion budget. Ramsey harks back to his work on the council, and speaks of having peace talks with local gangs and organizing a task force to recruit new business and industry. Rodee did not return phone calls; if he is elected, the council could fill his two-year vacancy as a councilman or call a special election.
In contrast to those three men, Joe Ellis, a self-proclaimed political novice, is making his first run for public office.
"I want to clean up the system," said the 24-year Marine Corps veteran. "A lot of people won't vote for anyone who's already in office. They want to see a new group in there, and I'm counting on that."
The city is guaranteed at least one new face with the retirement of Councilman Sam Williamson. Bishop, who withstood a recall election last year, is seeking reelection. With 16 other candidates nibbling into one another's support, Bishop is expected to be returned to office on the strength of her finely tuned grass-roots campaign machinery. She would become the council's senior member.
Most of the candidates say that the front-runner for the other council seat is Colleen Richardson O'Harra, an estate planning attorney who has lived in Oceanside 31 years but is making her first run for public office. She says the city's No. 1 problem is image--and that it can best be solved by electing council candidates who will put issues above personalities.
Planning Commission member Ralph Caballero, on the other hand, is no novice to local politics. He's making his fourth attempt for election to the council. Citing his service on the city's human relations commission and now as a planning commissioner, Caballero says it's time for an ethnic minority to serve on the council.
"No other candidate is as outspoken as me," he said. "I'll keep the council on its toes."
What will it take to be elected this time? Money, he says. And so far, he's got less than $1,000 to finance his campaign. "I anticipate more coming in," he said.
Marcum, the student, may be considered a dark horse because of his youth, but he's holding out hope that he'll surprise them all.
"I was worried from the beginning that senior citizens would say, 'Who is this kid and why is he trying to meddle in the city?' But the response has been just the opposite," Marcum said. After one forum, "a man walked up to me and said, 'Young man, it's nice to think that once we die, someone like you will be here to take over.'
"Will senior citizens trust a 21-year-old with a $55-million budget?" he said. "Well, they're turning out to be my most supportive group."
Marcum said he's trying develop a kitchen cabinet of advisers in the event he's elected--of the very candidates he is running against.
"Fifteen people won't win, but they're knowledgeable and they've still got strong opinions," he said. "They're people I can turn to."
Other council candidates are senior project engineer Roy B. Miller, Waste Commission member Dick Douglas, investment manager Thomas Patrick Garrity, grounds supervisor and teacher Richard Kratcoski, homemaker Rita M. Stevens, and small-business owners C. C. Sanders and Terry Warren Johnson.
Also: Gary Farnsworth, who describes himself as a laid-off city employee; Glenn Gorecki, no occupation listed; C. Ariel Lou Fenton, a plant physiologist; Reynold J. Blunk, a civil engineer; Ray E. Metcalf, a photographer, and Arden Ronald Miller, a businessman.
The other mayoral candidates include Obediah Bonds, a civil servant and retired from the military, and William H. Bergman, an editor. Also on the ballot is business owner Thomas (Zach) Porter, who has since withdrawn from the race.