Tuesday, February 7, Modesto voters repudiated the fictitious claims of Brad Hawn and his supporters by electing Garrad Marsh Mayor of Modesto. Marsh rolled to victory both on the strength of his platform—grow up, not out—and his own honor and integrity.
When his opponents tried to label him a cynical and hypocritical developer, Modesto voters wouldn’t have it. Marsh’s long but low-profile dedication to smart growth, his quiet record of commitment to the community, and his indelible honesty were more than enough to counter the meretricious claims of opponents who seemed desperate to find something, anything, to counter their own lack of vision.
Going into the run-off, the numbers seemed to favor Brad Hawn. Though Marsh won round one convincingly, both Bill Zoslocki and Armando Arreola, the other developer-sponsored candidates, threw their votes to Hawn. With the vast majority of those votes in the bag, Hawn stood to gain an impressive victory. It was all part of a political calculus that had kept city government in the hands of the Asphalt Empire for the better part of two decades.
Hawn had sponsored three widely popular public employee pension reform advisories on the first-round ballot, and they formed the main planks in his platform. Then, just as the ballots for the runoff were put in the mail, voters received a flier castigating Marsh for his role as a Village I developer. Those who knew the back story of the Village I scandal were stunned at the audacity. Some even recalled the attempt three years ago (about the time Hawn decided to run for mayor) to tag Marsh with conflict of interest charges via Sonora attorney Roger Brown. In that case, Marsh was exonerated. This looked like an attempt to revive a dead horse, based on the cynical calculation that voters weren’t paying attention.
There was an immediate public outcry against Hawn’s mailers. Educator Paul Neumann called them, “despicable.” Nonetheless, veteran observers of the sordid game of politics couldn’t help remembering that negative campaigns win more often than they lose.
Marsh remained unflappable through the tumult. His door-to-door ground game featured an army of inspired volunteers who kept working until the last possible moment of the campaign.
Local pundits will argue for years whether the Hawn mailers themselves doomed his campaign. One narrative has it that Hawn’s “nice guy” qualities were overwhelmed by advisors who couldn’t resist making the campaign a dirty game of false accusations. But anyone who watched the Bee interviews with the candidates had to conclude that even on Hawn’s signature issue of pension reform, Garrad Marsh had a more specific and plausible solution. Hawn at times seemed vague and uninterested, even on the pension issue.
Hawn’s defeat represents a sea change in regional politics. He had been endorsed by outgoing Mayor Jim Ridenour and a host of incumbent politicians ranging from mayors to Stanislaus County Supervisors. In a rare public display, kingmakers Mike Zagaris and George Petrulakis came out strong for Hawn, a sign of just how critical this election was for the future control of city politics.
In the end, Marsh’s unrelenting work ethic prevailed. Superficially as plain vanilla as the façade of his McHenry Avenue bowling alley, Garrad Marsh has a toughness and tenacity that will serve Modesto well during these hard times. It won’t hurt that he now has a majority vote as well.