Voters do not have to look too far into the past to recall a time when Merced City Council elections were dull affairs, with few candidates on the ballot other than incumbents.
Thankfully, the citys era of indifference toward City Council service appears to be history. Eight names are on the Nov. 5 ballot vying for three open seats. Only one Josh Pedrozo is an incumbent.
But thats not the best news. This years slate is the strongest in recent memory, with six candidates running serious campaigns and thoughtfully discussing the issues.
Pedrozo, 30, a Merced High School social-studies teacher, is seeking a second four-year term. Challenging him for the three open seats are Michael Belluomini, 63, who recently retired as director of facilities planning for the Merced Union High School District; Kevin Blake, 33, a sergeant in the Merced County Sheriffs Department; Jana Mowrer, 26, a home health care manager in her familys business; Peter Padilla, 64, an insurance agent, and Chris Ramirez, 39, a writing lecturer at UC Merced.
The two other candidates Alex Gallardo Jr. and Monica Kay Villa are not campaigning.
The six active candidates all have participated in open forums and other gatherings, and all but Padilla met with the Sun-Star editorial board in an early October meeting. Video from this meeting is available at www.mercedsunstar.com.
Three candidates rise to the top, all for various reasons:
• Belluomini brings a wealth of experience from his years as a public employee and possesses practical government knowledge thats not found in the other candidates. He boasts a successful background in public service, with stints as a planner for Merced County, a community development director for the city of Tracy and 23 years with the MUHSD, where he was involved in the process of building Golden Valley, Buhach Colony and El Capitan high schools.
He speaks convincingly about the need to improve the citys business climate, and he has the chops to be an intelligent participant in that discussion. Hed like to see the city play a more active role in recruiting new businesses, even if it means spending money to make it happen.
On resume alone, Belluomini brings the most relevant experience and an ability to ask tough questions of city staff. He would be a formidable force on a council that needs his expertise.
• As a sitting member of the City Council, Pedrozo has a record to run on and its an impressive one.
Pedrozos steady voice has helped lead the city through one of the most trying periods in its history. He is not afraid to tackle issues head-on. He was instrumental in lowering the citys development impact fees by 55 percent and played a key role in streamlining building codes.
The Merced native is a graduate of Cal Poly and Golden Gate University, where he earned a masters degree in public administration.
• Ramirez, a relative newcomer, has developed a passion for Merced. He has strong support from the UC community and brings solid experience as a teacher and educator who cares about young people.
He played an active role in Project 10 Percent, a program geared toward lowering the high school dropout rate among young people in Merced County. In a county where crime and joblessness remain serious problems for young people, we expect Ramirez will provide a fresh perspective in formulating possible solutions.
Ramirezs experience as a Court Appointed Special Advocate and Building Healthy Communities Hub-Steering Committee member for South Merced will also serve him well on the council.
The Sun-Star endorses Michael Belluomini, Josh Pedrozo and Chris Ramirez for election to the Merced City Council. Each brings unique talents that will help guide Merced to a better future.