|It's that time during the City Council election cycle when campaigns are picking up speed, and residents begin to decide who they like among the candidates.
In the last few weeks, Mountain View's nine candidates have been busily filling out questionnaires and doing interviews with about two dozen groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, the police and fire unions, the Sierra Club and the Democratic Party -- all in the hopes of winning one of four available seats on Nov. 4.
But lately many residents have preferred to know the endorsements of another, often unseen political force: neighborhood groups and leaders.
The trend became very noticeable in 2006 with the Monta Loma Neighborhood Association. It became apparent during the numerous hearings on the controversial Mayfield housing project that the neighborhood group was a force to be reckoned with. Some Monta Loma residents knocked on doors on behalf of the three eventual winners, and John Inks -- who according to a by-neighborhood breakdown of results did not have the support of Monta Loma -- lost by a narrow margin.
New group in town
Across town, another neighborhood group is becoming a political force in 2008.
"I'm finding the fact that so much activity is going on in our neighborhood makes this an important election for us," said Lisa Matichak, president of the newly formed Wagon Wheel Neighborhood Association in the North Whisman area.
The Whisman neighborhood has its own versions of the Mayfield "litmus test" this year: the proposed Hetch Hetchy housing project at 450 N.Whisman Road (which was the impetus to creating the neighborhood group in the first place) and a massive 700-plus-unit housing project on Ferguson Drive, not to mention a lack of retail to go along with all that housing.
"I would say some of them are trying to court us, particularly me," Matichak said of the candidates. "In my neighborhood people have asked me to provide guidance on who to vote for."
The Wagon Wheel Neighborhood Association recently changed its policy barring its leaders from making personal endorsements. So far, Matichak says, she personally supports incumbent Laura Macias and planning commissioner John McAlister, both of whom have been vocal opponents of the proposals for 450 N. Whisman.
But litmus tests cut both ways. The Sierra Club, for example, supported both the Mayfield and Hetch Hetchy projects so that more Mountain View employees could live in the city, resulting in less traffic and air pollution. This year, the Sierra Club has endorsed Mike Kasperzak, John Inks, Alicia Crank and Chris Clark.
Not all council-watchers believe neighborhood groups will have such a huge impact this November. Former council candidate Bruce Karney, for one, is skeptical.
"I think the last election was unusual in that there was a specific project the neighborhood had an opinion about," he said, referring to Mayfield. "I can't think of any situations parallel to that in the past." It was, he agreed, a "litmus test issue."
Karney said unions, notably the local police and firefighter unions in Mountain View, can be far more organized than neighborhood associations in garnering support for candidates. "I would rank them well behind the unions," he said about the neighborhood groups. That includes downtown's Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association, where he is an active member.
The unions "provide volunteers and independent campaign expenditures. The city's campaign spending cap is $20,000. If a union runs an ad supporting x, y, and z candidate, that doesn't go against the limit. In the past the union expenditures have been quite significant. And they ask members to make contributions."
The police union has yet to announce its endorsements, but the Mountain View Professional Firefighters have endorsed incumbents Tom Means and Laura Macias and commissioners Alicia Crank and John Inks.
In larger cities, the endorsement of the Democratic Party might be seen as an important thing, but that hasn't been the case in Mountain View. This year the party has endorsed Chris Clark, Alicia Crank and Laura Macias, according to its county Web site.
In Mountain View, the largest political organization is the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, but that group does not endorse candidates. It does, however, publish the Web site smartvoter.org, which is used by many residents to learn about all candidates and measures on the ballot, from local to federal. The group also organizes forums and debates for local candidates, social events attended by officials, and publishes a newsletter with notes from the group's observers who regularly attend public meetings.
Ultimately, Mountain View politics often comes down to the art of networking -- which people, and how many of them, work behind the scenes to get the candidates elected.
"It's not a good old boy network, it's more of an old girl network," said Elna Tymes, former president of the Monta Loma Neighborhood Association and now campaign manager for Kasperzak. "There are more women involved than there are men."
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