When Carmen Sabatino ran for mayor in 1999, Modesto voters were disenchanted with incumbent Mayor Richard Lang and the city council. Mr. Sabatino presented a compelling case for making a change and was elected in an upset.
When he assumed office, he went to work reforming city government, stopping subsidies to residential developers, and eliminating wasteful spending. He hired a new city manager and a new police chief. Traffic signals were synchronized and busses were mandated to run on time, with schedules posted at each stop.
He separated the Modesto Chamber of Commerce from the Convention and Visitors Bureau and drastically cut city spending for advertising in the local newspaper by demonstrating the city was not obtaining the best advertising rates. Mayor Sabatino also got into disputes with Stanislaus County government. He exposed unfair financial agreements between the city and county regarding waste contracts. He stabilized utility rates and stopped the transfer of funds between water and other city departments. Mr. Sabatino’s administration exposed the Village One infrastructure financing debacle; it imposed higher fees to make new growth pay for itself.
Mayor Sabatino’s goal of establishing an open and transparent government seemed quite successful. He pursued the goal with purpose and determination. He fearlessly took on the community’s power brokers.
The Personal Cost
In the process of reforming city government, Mayor Sabatino infuriated his political enemies by lambasting those who stood in his way. In an effort to make changes, he called out enemies by name. Some of his enemies retaliated by setting up a ten count felony charge in what some observers have called a “frame-up.” The charges were brought just prior to Mr. Sabatino running for re-election.
When the votes were counted, the Mr. Sabatino had received only 15 percent of the vote. He lost to political newcomer James Ridenour, who had not previously held elected office. Several years later, Mr. Sabatino was acquitted of all charges by a deadlocked jury.
Although he had been legally cleared, to this day, some of Modesto’s citizens hold him in low regard despite the accomplishments of his administration as mayor. Being charged with a crime in Stanislaus County is as good as being guilty in the minds of some citizens.
Carmen Sabatino is again running for Mayor in 2015—a conservative with the slogan: “Restore Respect for Taxpayers.” He believes the city attorney’s office has wasted money hiring outside attorneys to defend Modesto against lawsuits that should either be defended in house or settled before the case goes to trial. He has also alleged a number of cases of corruption in the years since he left office. He thinks that the power brokers who corrupted Modesto city government before he took office in 1999 are back in power and need to be reined in.
Mr. Sabatino opposes Measure G, the one half percent sales tax increase. He says that until city government stops wasting money, he cannot support any sales tax increase.
Mr. Sabatino supports Measure I, the proposal on the November ballot that will establish urban limit lines on three sides of Modesto. He believes developers unduly influence city council members, and the council cannot be trusted to implement wise land use. Measure I is needed to protect farm land surrounding the Modesto urban area.
No Stranger to Controversy
Ever since he served in office, Carmen Sabatino has had a rocky relationship with the Modesto Bee. He has felt unfairly treated by the paper ever since the original felony charges were brought while Mayor. Bee editors were present when police officers entered his office, seized his computer equipment, and brought felony charges against him. To this day, he has openly expressed his resentment towards the newspaper and the power brokers who he believes set him up.
Mr. Sabatino has an ongoing feud with Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson and has acquired new political enemies. Recently, he entered into a verbal dispute with incumbent Mayor Garrad Marsh by charging that Marsh had tried to enter into a secret water sales deal with the city of San Francisco during California’s first year of drought. Marsh angrily denied the allegation by calling Sabatino a liar at a recent public debate. Mr. Sabatino has repeatedly accused the Marsh administration of wasting money trying to annex Salida and in other ways.
Prior to deciding to run for election, Mr. Sabatino said he was cited by the Modesto police department for parking in a handicapped space in his restaurant parking lot while the restaurant was closed. At the time, he saw this as a result of political enemies trying to get even with him.
Relationship with Frank Carson
Noted Modesto defense attorney Frank Carson, presently charged as being a co-conspirator in the murder of Korey Kauffman, was Carmen Sabatino’s defense attorney in the candidate’s acquittal on the felony charges. Mr. Sabatino is convinced that the case against his former attorney is bogus, another frame-up being perpetrated by the same district attorney’s office that failed to convict him. He thinks that Mr. Carson will ultimately be acquitted.
In support of Mr. Carson, Mr. Sabatino has been using his web newsletter The Backstory, to provide daily reports and opinions on Mr. Carson’s case and other local political issues. Mr. Sabatino also does daily podcasts weekdays at 11:30AM.
Mr. Sabatino has repeatedly stated that there are a lot of evil people in the community of Modesto. He wants to gain office once again to finish the job he started during his original term as Mayor. He wants to clean up corruption in city government wherever he finds it.