Money, energy, and a positive message carried Joe Muratore to an unexpectedly large victory in his race for a Modesto City Council seat representing the La Loma and airport neighborhoods, political observers say.
His margin of victory Tuesday — 54 percent — allows him to bypass a December runoff despite dogged campaigns run by opponents Jeff Perine and Robert Stanford.
The economy was a concern this campaign season, but there was no single issue weighing on voters' minds.
With that in mind, Muratore said his strategy was to interact with voters as much as possible. "I think the voters were more focused on the person rather than on a specific issue," Muratore said.
Muratore started knocking on doors in early August. His $29,352 campaign war chest bought him six mailers. Jeff Perine sent out two. Stanford didn't use mailers at all, but distributed about 8,000 fliers.
The weekend before the election, Muratore spent 15 hours a day personally calling more than 1,000 households, he said. That last-minute push may have given him the edge, he said.
Tuesday's early returns from mail-in ballots had Muratore with 50 percent to 51 percent of the vote. But his lead grew as votes were counted from people who cast their ballots Tuesday — a sign that voters may have made up their minds after hearing directly from Muratore.
Perine, 30, ran for council in 2003. He said running a district race was more manageable than campaigning citywide. Like Muratore, he knocked on thousands of doors. But Perine said he may have had trouble matching Muratore's reach because his work schedule isn't as flexible as Muratore's.
A bit too much public safety?
Perine, a teacher in a ju- venile correctional facility, comes from a law enforcement family and won backing from the police union. But he may have become too identified with public safety issues, said Councilman Brad Hawn, who is a close friend of the Muratore family and a business partner with the new councilman.
"When I looked at Joe, he seemed to be more well-rounded," Hawn said. "He spoke to all the issues, not a specific issue, and that helped him a lot."
The positive tone Muratore maintained throughout the race may have helped him as well. Muratore painted Modesto as a city with a thriving future. His challengers talked about specific problems plaguing the city today: Perine referred to foreclosed homes as a haven for crime, and Stanford spoke repeatedly about the recent shooting death of a 10-year-old boy.
"With Jeff Perine working in a juvenile justice facility and me working in the airport neighborhood, we see a lot of the bad side of life that most people don't see," Stanford said. "Sometimes our urgency is misinterpreted."
'Energizer bunny on speed'
Stanford noted that Muratore benefited from seem- ingly boundless energy. "He did six mailings, he had a sign-up every time you turned around — he was like the Energizer bunny on speed," Stanford said.
Voters also may have responded to the solutions Muratore touted on the campaign trail. "I think he had a true message and one that was actually attainable," City Councilman Dave Lopez said. "Joe talked about ideas that had actually worked."
Specifically, Muratore hammered the message that the La Loma Neighborhood Association could be used as a model to improve neighborhoods across the city.
The neighborhood group cleans up parks, runs its own security service and sends a newsletter to 2,100 homes. Well-organized and vocal, the group has pushed for quality-of-life issues such as a ban on Dumpster diving and surveillance cameras in parks.
Muratore sits on the group's board. Only about 30 percent to 40 percent of the voters Muratore targeted live in the La Loma neighborhood, but he called his ties to the group a "major factor" in his success. "I had a base of people that already knew me, they knew my work ethic, they liked me," Muratore said.
But that wasn't the only network Muratore drew on. He's also a member of Commonwealth Modesto, a group of young professionals that say they want to improve the city and its image. His ties to the group allowed him to "quickly energize" about 50 young people and put them to work handing out campaign literature, Muratore said.
Hawn said he sees Muratore as part of a new generation of ambitious young people rising to the fore in Mo- desto politics — and he expects to hear more from them.
Hawn is advising Commonwealth Modesto on some of its projects.
"I was surprised that this generation is circling back and wanting to participate," Hawn said. "It's pretty amazing to work with a bunch of young people that want to help their community."
Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2378. Follow her at twitter.com/beereporter.