La Mesa voters picked change Tuesday — at least the 10,200 who voted did — electing a new mayor to replace six-term incumbent Art Madrid. By a vote of 6017 to 4200, on November 4, La Mesans put city councilman Mark Arapostathis in the driver's seat for the next four years.
"I guess I didn't have enough fans," Madrid said cheerfully the day after. "The most common thing I hear is I've been there too long — somehow implying I've worn out my value and my contributions….
"I'm not reluctant to say no, to stand up and tell the truth, and that doesn't make you popular. I hope people remember that when I was in office, I did my very best for this city — I have a legacy of being involved in the community and protecting the ambiance…. I had their support for 24 years and that's an honor."
Madrid was first elected to the La Mesa City Council in 1981. He won the mayor's job in 1990, when he was 56 years old. He's been called the “green mayor,” and he's been harshly criticized for his bluntness and off-duty antics.
In the past few years, the city council (including his opponent) stripped him of committee assignments and money for travel as they tried to rein him in. The new mayor came in as a Madrid ally eight years ago but gradually pulled away — some say “turned on” Madrid.
The outgoing mayor said he had hoped to serve one more term to wrap up a couple of things — getting a new city hall to stand next to the new police station and library; making sure that the Park Station development stays lower than the eight to ten stories the developer wants; and seeing the downtown revitalization project through to the finish.
Madrid thinks that he may have made being mayor appear easy.
"Very few people have had the chance to be involved in significant change the way I have, and I've been here long enough that people may think it's easy when it's not," Madrid said. "I built relationships of trust with people all over the place, in the city, with the staff, with people all over the county, where I can make a phone call and they'll talk to me."
Mark Arapostathis didn't respond to calls and emails for comment. But other La Mesans seemed to have mixed feelings about the election.
"Art is really colorful and really local," said Ken B., who was leaving the Regal Bar on Wednesday, November 5. "I guess his time came and went, but I'm sure going to miss hearing about the things he says and does."
Marcia Tolin, a real-estate agent who is on the board of the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce, also expressed mixed feelings about the mayor's race.
"I was on the fence with that one," Tolin said. "What I was really worried about, am worried about, is how much outside money came in to La Mesa and how we ended up with two councilmembers I expect will be very pro development — one, Bill Baber, is a registered lobbyist for the building industry….. I know Art could handle the kind of pressure that will bring. I guess we'll see if Mark can."
Madrid said he doesn't wish Arapostathis ill, but he said he's worried about his ability to lead and make tough decisions. In a late election flyer, Madrid raised those very issues against his opponent, who refused to debate him.