Two years ago, this newspaper endorsed Stan Thurston in his campaign for mayor of Merced.
The Great Recession and its aftermath have been particularly unkind to the city, with thousands of hard-working citizens losing their jobs and homes. We thought Thurston’s background as a private businessman and former two-term member of the City Council positioned him well to tackle the city’s economic malaise and all of its resulting challenges.
Fast forward two years, and Mayor Thurston has proven to be a steady and measured hand at the city’s helm, helping to set the agenda for what too often was an aimless City Council. He deserves re-election.
Critics brand Thurston as a tea party conservative who has a distaste for government. While he admits he doesn’t disagree with all tea party philosophies, Thurston stresses he isn’t a tea party member and isn’t running to push its agenda. What he’s shown is that he’s a conservative voice on the council who isn’t afraid to ask tough questions, and won’t just go along to get along.
At a time of great fiscal peril for the city, his conservative approach to city finances is not only desirable, it’s downright essential. Thurston has shown an unwillingness to take things at face value, pushing the staff and others for answers on the fiscal fallout of council decisions on the city budget. He understands the need to spend tax dollars wisely, maintain a balanced city budget and prepare for increasing costs of city retirement obligations in the coming years.
His experience as an attorney and small business owner serves voters particularly well. He knows what it takes to keep a small business going in difficult economic times, so advocating for cutting fees and other unwarranted impediments to business development come easily to him. But when growth returns to boom times, he’ll need to be just as willing to do what’s necessary to ensure it pays for itself. We’re confident he will.
His legal experience means he won’t simply sign off on a contract because it’s gone through all the proper channels. Thurston will want to know what strings are attached to any deal the city is considering. Too often, government officials are too willing to rubber-stamp staff proposals, plans and projects without looking deeper, but he’s not that guy.
While the Sun-Star supports high-speed rail, Thurston’s unwillingness to sign off on a planning grant to build a station in downtown Merced because of some problem with the way the grant was written doesn’t bother us. There will be many more grants and contracts coming before the city regarding high-speed rail, so close scrutiny will be required.
Others on the council voted to approve the grant anyway, and that’s a key point to remember. In Merced, the mayor is just one voice on the council – no more powerful than any other council member. So having a mayor such as Thurston, who is willing to speak his mind, take a conservative approach to municipal finances and look deeper at the complex issues brought before the council, is a good thing for Merced.
But the mayor is – at the very least – also the ceremonial leader of the city and as such is its representative not only in Merced, but throughout the state and beyond, attending functions and events on behalf of Merced. Thurston has made a point of trying to be the mayor of all of Merced and all Mercedians, touting a council meeting in south Merced and his willingness to listen to residents even if they don’t agree with him.
But a racist email sent out by a member of his campaign staff, who has since been let go, tarnishes that claim. Thurston’s swift and strong rebuke of the email and its author wasn’t just the right response – it was the only one. Merced can’t afford to tolerate that kind of thinking anywhere, and especially at City Hall. The city’s strength is its diversity and it’s only going to become more diverse as the city and UC Merced grow.
Thurston will have to work hard to show that the ravings of a misguided campaign worker don’t reflect his feelings or attitudes. We’re confident he will continue to embrace all members of the community, regardless of race, economic status or political clout.
A byproduct of Thurston’s re-election will be to preserve his opponent’s seat on the council. Noah Lor was elected in 2011 to a second four-year term, which means the two will serve alongside each other for the remainder of their respective terms.
Thurston has performed admirably as mayor. He deserves a second and final term. The Sun-Star endorses Stan Thurston for re-election as mayor of Merced.