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Someone's already filed for 2011 race

Momentum is building for Modesto's city election ... in 2011.

While most voters are focused on the Nov. 3 election for City Council, school board and irrigation district seats, one man has set his sights on Modesto's mayoral contest more than two years from now.

Councilman Brad Hawn already has filed papers signaling his intent to run for mayor in the November 2011 election. In fact, he did it back in May.

Hawn, a structural engineer, says it's in his blood to be organized. "I'm an engineer and I plan stuff," Hawn said. "I've been thinking about this for quite some time. Instead of jamming the whole thing into a year I'm trying to spread out the workload."

Hawn, 54, filed paperwork forming a campaign fund-raising committee on May 11. He said he's raised about $1,000 so far. Hawn said he's also collected some endorsements, which he'll announce after the current election is over.

No other candidates officially have entered the 2011 race. Councilman Garrad Marsh said he'll probably run, but won't make a final decision until he's discussed it with his entire family at Christmas.

"I felt it was too soon myself to actually declare and take away from the people running now," Marsh said. "It's the first district elections and the people that are out running, they should be the focus of the media and the citizenry of Modesto. After that, I feel it's open game."

Hawn and Marsh have very similar voting records on the council, though they differ on their priorities. Marsh is identified with slow-growth efforts; Hawn tackles complicated regional public-service issues, such as sewer and water. Neither can seek re-election to the council because of term limits.

A contest between them, and whomever else might choose to run, would be a markedly different race than the 2007 mayoral vote in which Jim Ridenour was re-elected without a challenger.

Longtime Democratic activist Sandy Lucas said early birds don't necessarily win the campaign worm. "In politics, being really organized doesn't mean anything," Lucas said. "You've got to be visible and in the news. It might be helpful once you're in office (to be organized), but nobody cares until you get there. It's all about your beliefs and your personality when you're running."

Lucas said Hawn may have wasted an opportunity by not making a public announcement when he formed his fund-raising committee.

George Petrulakis, a Modesto land-use attorney who managed Ridenour's 2003 mayoral campaign, said he usually encourages candidates to get an early start — but the strategy doesn't always work.

"It can play out either way," Petrulakis said. "Usually strong, savvy candidates tend to start early. But when you start early, the potential downside is that you raise expectations." That can lead to disappointment if candidates don't capitalize on early momentum, Petrulakis said.

Hawn was elected to the council in 2003. In the November 2011 election, voters also will choose council members in three of Modesto's new voting districts. The mayor's seat is a citywide office.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378. Follow her at twitter.com/beereporter.

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