It's been two years since the costliest, most contentious mayoral race in Merced's history. Thankfully, the city survived that blistering contest in fine shape.
Ellie Wooten has proven to be a good steward of the public's trust. She may not be the flashiest mayor or the greatest political operative, but she clearly understands the boundaries of a ceremonial mayor's position and has grown into the role of running the twice-monthly City Council meetings.
Has she done anything over the past two years that would warrant her being fired?
We think that answer is an emphatic "no," and we endorse her candidacy for a second and final two-year term.
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We must admit we're disappointed that this year's mayoral race is a rematch of a score that really was settled two years ago. It shouldn't have to be this way. The voters do not deserve a repeat of Ellie Wooten vs. Rick Osorio.
We have the same reservations with Osorio today that we had two years ago.
He seems willing to say anything to get himself out of an uncomfortable situation or to cover his tracks. For example, his recent attempts at damage control over the non-union sign issue only made his mistake seem worse. He called a Sun-Star reporter and told her he was authorized to use the signs, which turned out to be untrue.
He also frequently lacks discretion and professionalism. At a meeting with Sun-Star editors last month, he came perilously close to spilling the beans over several clearly confidential issues, such as how City Manager Jim Marshall may be about to retire, and that the city is facing some serious lawsuits. Wooten, who was in the room, seemed stunned as Osorio casually rattled off this proprietary information -- and rightfully so.
Then there's the Merced Hyundai issue. Osorio received a $1,500 campaign contribution from the auto dealership, bought a car from it and then helped the dealership buy land for a new location -- yet he still voted on a matter before the council that would have given Hyundai a discount on city fees (Osorio voted yes, but the measure failed). We see Osorio's vote in this matter as an enormous conflict of interest.
Wooten usually treats the public with warmth and respect -- she bends down to shake the hands of visiting children, hugs retiring employees and put a comforting arm around Josh Pickard's mother when the city honored the fallen Marine.
Wooten has used her personal relationships and likability to the city's advantage, working with Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani's office on a railroad underpass, with Rep. Dennis Cardoza on expediting the transfer of Bell Station to the city and visiting Washington, D.C., to meet personally with FAA officials over the airspace fight with Castle Airport.
The mayor's primary responsibilities are to run council meetings and represent the city in public. Beyond those duties, the mayor is nothing more than a City Council member.
Wooten has proved to be more than adequate at both jobs. At meetings, she uses her raspy and commanding voice to move the proceedings along. Unlike Osorio, she doesn't open her mouth just to hear herself talk. She only weighs in when she wants to and has a point to make.
Osorio's tendency to ramble, sometimes with no discernible point, could derail council meetings and impair the smooth functioning of the city.
Just as two years ago, it comes down to style and character. Ellie Wooten is a better fit for the reality of a ceremonial mayor's post.
It's time for voters to thank Osorio for his six-plus years of service to the city and bid him goodbye from local elected office.
The Sun-Star endorses Ellie Wooten for re-election as mayor of Merced.