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Ken Riggleman is a familiar face at Merced City Council meetings, but you may know him better as the man with a working model railroad surrounding his house. Riggleman, 69, built a train track -- complete with miniature villages, airplanes and tunnels -- around his Alexander Drive home in 2007. Unlike his trains, however, Riggleman says the city of Merced has gone off its tracks.
That's why he's running for mayor.
"Right now, I don't think Merced's going anywhere," he said. "I'm going to find out what these last mayors said they were going to do when they ran for election, because I don't see any businesses opening up."
Riggleman isn't a stranger to the political process. He's made numerous attempts for a seat on the Merced City Council, and in 2003 he even pulled campaign papers to run in the recall election against Gov. Gray Davis. (He said he withdrew his papers when Congressman Dennis Cardoza agreed to consider some of his legislative issues, including smog requirements for Bay Area residents).
Riggleman also takes credit for helping to push through a ballot initiative about 20 years ago that created an elected mayor position. Previously, Merced's mayoral position was purely ceremonial, rotating among city council members. Richard Bernasconi, Merced's first elected mayor, is a sort of political hero for Riggleman. In fact, it was Riggleman who first suggested naming a neighborhood park after the former mayor. (Bernasconi Park opened in 2009). And he's a big proponent of bringing the Wal-Mart distribution center to Merced. "If people tell me they don't want a business here, I'll tell them 'there's the door.' That's the way Bernasconi was, and that's the way I'd be."
Riggleman has made appearance after appearance during the public comment periods of Merced City Council meetings, advocating for wheelchair ramps along area roadways, opposing a recent proposed sales tax measure and voicing his favor for the Wal-Mart project. He also recently used his time at the podium to present a certificate of appreciation to his neighbor, Clarence Denning, who he says helped save his life in 2007. "My blood sugar was so high that I should have been in a coma," he said.
The latest target of Riggleman's ire is the parking situation in Downtown Merced. "We've got this redevelopment area, and the only trouble is you go down there to shop and get a parking ticket every time. People are getting sick of that." As mayor, Riggleman says he'd discourage business owners from using street parking and he'd stop the meter maids from issuing parking tickets. "I like to walk around and browse, but I don't shop down there anymore for that reason. The city is nice down there, but nobody wants to visit."