Anaheim mayoral candidates Tom Tait (left) and Shirley McCracken.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 | Anaheim faces high-profile development in coming years, but the leading candidates in the race to replace outgoing Mayor Curt Pringle say their priorities are more immediate and personal.

Neighborhoods have been neglected by City Hall, contends former city councilwoman and longtime activist Shirley McCracken.

A pro-business attitude by city officials and reform of some regulations are a top concern of Tom Tait, the candidate with the biggest budget and the backing of Pringle and the city’s most influential business interests.

But Tait, a former member of the Anaheim City Council, said he’s really running on “kindness.”

“Kindness isn’t a political term,” he said. “I think people, when you say it, maybe think it’s a little naive, but why not?”

Bringing kindness to Anaheim, he said, would mean expanding neighborhood watch programs so people are aware of those around them, such as elderly residents living alone, who may need special help during emergencies.

Tait, head of an environmental engineering firm, said he’d like to broaden neighborhood watch generally to give it more training about what individual groups of residents should do for each other during severe earthquakes or other emergency before outside help arrives.

At City Hall, Tait would like workers to follow the example of a California Highway Patrol officer he recently observed using his patrol car to push an older auto that had run out of gas a short distance to a gas station.

The officer probably wasn’t following regulations, Tait said, but it was an act of kindness that he said can be applied to government regulations in general.

He said one situation brought to his attention involved a restaurant that had its grand opening delayed because a cloth awning over the entrance wasn’t installed up-to-code. Granting leeway for minor violations of regulations could help businesses without hurting the intended goals of the rules, he said.

“I think a lot of it is interpretation of regulations,” he said.

And such changes can save or increase jobs, he argues. “It’s hard to have a healthy city when the unemployment rate is 12 or 13 percent in Anaheim,” he said.

Neighborhoods Before New Development

McCracken’s major concerns, she said, are the stuff of ordinary life, parks, graffiti, tree trimming, police staffing and libraries.

“I have an understanding of the city,” she said, “all across the city.”

Major development projects, like the planned Platinum Triangle entertainment center, may have to wait a few more years until the economy improves.

“I think we’re going to have to pick and choose” among the big projects, she said, based on what services, like policing, the city can afford to provide to go along with them.

The immediate concern, McCracken said, is neighborhoods. When she speaks to groups in various areas of the city, she said she hears the same message: “Nobody (at City Hall) is listening to us.”

Neighborhoods, she said, have “taken a backseat to the big, glamorous things.”

Senior citizens have seen hours reduced at senior centers, and, McCracken said, those who are unemployed have told her “it hurts more if you have to reduce library hours.”

And, McCracken notes, if she wins she’ll “make history.” Anaheim has never had a woman as mayor.

Campaign by Mail

Tait’s campaign strategist, Matthew Cunningham, who is also the executive editor of the conservative blog Red County, estimates the campaign will spend about $150,000 on the election, by far the most of any candidate.

The change in voter habits — with many ballots now cast by mail well before Election Day — has meant campaigns have had to shift strategies and plan to reach one group of voters before they send in their ballots and again just before Election Day for those who still go to the polls.

Although candidates, including Tait and McCracken, walk precincts and use the Internet, including campaign websites, mail is the major source of campaign communication in Orange County because advertising on Los Angeles-based television is too expensive for local candidates.

McCracken, a former teacher, estimates her campaign will be able to afford two mailers, each going to about 35,000 households in the city of 350,000 residents.

Each mailer, she said, costs $28,000 or $29,000, and her campaign is relying on generally smaller donations from individuals.

She said one absentee voter called her and said, “‘Oh, I got your mailer.’ I said, ‘Save it. It’s the only one you’re getting.’”

According to her campaign reports, as of Oct. 16, McCracken raised $27,654.82 so far this year, including $3,000 she loaned her campaign, and spent $23,830.73.

Tait held a big fundraiser at the end of 2009 and entered this year with a $127,229.88 war chest and the backing of major Anaheim business interests, including the Chamber of Commerce and Bureau of Tourism.

He also picked up the endorsement of the political action committee for Support Our Anaheim Resort (S.O.A.R. PAC), whose backers include Disney, among other business groups.

This year he’s raised another $61,031.88, spent $75,229.52, and as of the end of September, still had $73,882.62, according to his campaign finance reports.

The Long Shot

The self-described long shot in the race is Denis Fitzgerald, a retired head of a medical supply company who is a longtime member of Home Owners Maintaining our Environment (HOME), a volunteer watchdog organization.

In the past, the group has raised neighborhood health concerns about the Disneyland fireworks displays and, Fitzgerald said, provided information a number of years ago that helped lead to the criminal conviction of a former council member.

Fitzgerald has no money — “zero” — for his campaign but attends candidate forums and other events to raise issues that he is concerned won’t be addressed by the other candidates.

For example, he said roughly half of Anaheim’s population is Latino, but none of the mayoral candidates and very few City Council candidates are Latino.

And, he said, the majority of the council for years has lived in the upscale Anaheim Hills, while other parts of the city don’t receive the attention they need.

Corruption issues are a major concern for Fitzgerald and HOME, but as for his chances of becoming mayor, “I think Hell’s going to have to freeze over before I’m elected.”

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