There was little to learn from Wednesday’s debate between Sue Zwahlen and Modesto City Councilmember Doug Ridenour. Sponsored by the Modesto Bee, the debate stumbled through technical problems and distraction from the tumult in Washington DC.
Neither Ridenour nor Zwahlen could muster much passion; they clearly like and respect one another. Ridenour was most animated when questioned about his failures to wear a mask during the earlier stages of the pandemic; clearly irritated, he admitted he’d made mistakes and said that he had corrected them.
Ridenour’s response to the Coronavirus, however, has been much like that of other supporters of Donald Trump, including Stanislaus County Supervisors Terry Withrow and Jim DeMartini, both of whom have endorsed and supported Ridenour. A major reason Stanislaus County has remained among the worst regions in the state for Covid infections and deaths has been the desultory and even defiant responses to science by local leaders. As of January 7, Stanislaus County ranked third in the state in deaths from the Coronavirus per 100,000 residents, at 120.3.
Though we respect Doug Ridenour’s long community service as Modesto Police Officer, his term on the Modesto City Council has been marked by rancor and dysfunction, and he’s been at the center of much of it, including a costly investigation that could carry over into the new term. Ridenour’s troubles have been with city staff; for comparison, consider Jim Gain’s comments about Sue Zwahlen’s relationship with Modesto City School’s staff members:
I have known Sue since the late 70s, but I really got to know her on a deeper level when she joined the Modesto City School Board of Education. As I ran the video stream for the Board meetings, we were able to have many relaxed, off-the-record conversations about the challenges and benefits of technology in education. She was intrigued about the possibilities of technology and always wanted to learn more.
What inspired me the most about Sue was the way she interacted with all MCS staff, no matter their position or title. As a member of the District’s Technology Committee, she made an effort to get to know each of the other members and to understand how their job position in the district influenced their perspectives. She provided keen insight while always approaching conversations from the perspective of the learner.
Now retired, Jim Gain was formerly Modesto City School’s Supervisor of Instructional Technology.
Under current leadership, Modesto has stumbled through the Covid pandemic. Its leaders have complained about closures, frequently appeared in public without masks, and questioned the recommendations of qualified experts. It’s critical we subdue the virus so we can reopen. A retired Emergency Room nurse, Sue Zwahlen is exceptionally qualified to assess and respond to the biggest crisis in our city’s recent history.
Doug Ridenour’s experience as a Modesto City Police Officer is valuable and much appreciated, but overall crime is down in Modesto, and especially if interim Chief Brandon Gillespie is appointed to replace Galen Carroll, we can expect a seamless continuity of outstanding law enforcement. The problems of today demand comprehension of the severity of the pandemic, the ability to work with others, and a firm understanding of what it will take to get us back in business.
Two of Modesto’s finest mayors were Peggy Mensinger and Carol Whiteside, women who knew leadership begins with respect for others. Since their terms, the city has too often lacked direction and focus.
Sue Zwahlen’s term on the Modesto City School Board was marked by comity and success; graduation rates increased by almost 13%. She’s been endorsed by virtually everyone she worked with. During this time of critical emergency, we need someone for whom emergencies were a career and public service a duty. We need Sue Zwahlen.