Modesto's district elections are meant to open doors to candidates who wouldn't normally run, in part because it's cheaper than running for citywide office.
But money still will play a key role in this fall's three City Council races. Political watchers say it could cost $20,000 to $25,000 to run for district office.
Councilwoman Kristin Ol-sen, facing one challenger in District 5, is enjoying the fruits of incumbency. The first round of campaign finance filings for the November election show Olsen with $32,028 in cash on hand.
She's raised $39,402 this calendar year -- which includes $3,189 in nonmonetary contributions -- and spent $8,499.
Olsen said she spent about $50,000 in her 2005 council race, plus an additional $20,000 in the runoff election that followed. She said she doesn't know how much it will take to win a district seat.
Her rival in District 5, Joe Cataline, 25, has yet to file any contributions.
Cataline said he'll fight Olsen's cash with shoe leather. "I believe that campaigns are won and lost by actually talking and listening to voters," he said. "I'll be taking my case to them, door-to-door, face-to-face."
Cataline said he's invested in three new pairs of shoes to help get the job done.
Of the seven City Council candidates, only Olsen and two others have raised enough money to meet the threshold for filing financial statements.
District 4 contender Joe Muratore has raised and borrowed $14,242. He's spent $903. Another District 4 hopeful, Jeff Perine, has gathered $2,978.
Community advocate Robert Stanford, also running in District 4, said he got a late start on his campaign and is just now forming a fund-raising committee. He said he aims to raise about $20,000, in part with donations from labor unions.
The two candidates in District 2, Al Nava and Dave Geer, have not filed campaign finance statements.
Muratore and Olsen enjoy financial support from council members. Muratore's statement shows a $500 contribution from Councilman Brad Hawn. Olsen received $500 from Mayor Jim Ridenour's campaign fund and $150 from Councilman Garrad Marsh.
Olsen also collected $125 from fellow candidate Muratore's real estate company, Sentinel Rock Realty Trust. Olsen said she received the contribution in March, before Muratore decided to run for the council.
Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2378.