CONCORD -- In the largest field of candidates in more than two decades -- and one of the most competitive races in Contra Costa County -- 11 people are vying for two seats on the City Council for a term that includes decisions on projects key to the city's future.
Not since 1989, when 16 candidates were on the ballot, has there been more interest in running for council in a regular election.
The candidates range from an incumbent, to council observers, to longtime residents and political neophytes.
At least one new face will join the five-member council after the Nov. 6 election because Vice Mayor Bill Shinn is not running for re-election.
Candidates Edi Birsan, Melanie Sheehan-Carter, incumbent Dan Helix, Alany Helmantoler, Terry Kremin, Harmesh Kumar, Carol Longshore and Tim McGallian expressed opinions on city issues in a recent round-table discussion sponsored by the League of Women Voters and moderated by the Contra Costa Times. Robert David Camacho, Suzanne Davis-Lucey and Vernon Kurpieski did not attend.
The round-table will air several more times on CCTV.
The candidates at the round-table threw support to Measure Q, Contra Costa Fire Protection District's $75-per-year parcel tax measure on the Nov. 6 ballot. ConFire provides fire service for Concord and eight other cities.
Questions at the round-table ranged from pension reform, to the massive reuse plan to develop the Concord Naval Weapons Station, to the merits of pay and benefits for City Council members.
The reuse project at the former naval base provides a great opportunity to open much-needed athletic fields, said Sheehan-Carter. She said she recently took her family to a tournament with 915 teams in another town.
"It disturbs me the amount of dollars we pay to other cities to use sports facilities," said Sheehan-Carter, a paralegal and granddaughter of former Concord Mayor James Sheehan. "Those teams filled hotels, filled restaurants and provided viable and growing economy."
Kremin said he can bring a fresh viewpoint to council with his background as a neuroscientist. One idea he has is to find short-term leases for the naval weapons station after the city assumes control of the land and before it builds on it years later. The city could put a solar plant out there, he said.
"We could have an immediate return back on our property," said Kremin.
Longshore, a community volunteer and member of the Concord Historical Society, suggested the city build a professional athletic facility on the land, an idea incumbent Helix supported.
"I think that would bring a lot of fun and interest to the city of Concord," said Longshore.
Helix, the only incumbent in the race, served on council in the 1970s and returned in 2010 when he was appointed to fill a vacancy. He supported the idea of a training facility for Olympians, and is also pushing for the city to one day take control of Port Chicago from the military and turn it into a commercial port.
Helix and McGallian, a planning commissioner, have been endorsed by the Concord Police Officers Association.
Birsan, a businessman who holds positions on several community groups and frequently comments at council meetings, promised reforms such as ending lifetime benefits given to City Council members who serve at least five years, and to end no-bid contracts given to former city employees.
"This must be stopped," Birsan said. "This is what leadership is for and this is one of the reasons why I'm running for City Council."
McGallian disagreed, saying that taking away benefits from council members might dissuade someone from running for the seat.
"We have to be mindful that if we want only the wealthy and those who can afford to give up all the benefits, all the pay, to run for office, that's what you'll end up attracting," said McGallian.
At the forum, Kumar, a psychologist, said public safety is his top priority. He cited police statistics and the amount of money the police department has paid out in settlements.
"It is not how much money we spend on the system, it is how we spend it," said Kumar.
Helmantoler, a lifelong resident who has worked as a lobbyist for open carry and gun rights groups, said she is worried about how the high-density portions of the naval weapons station project will impact traffic.
"We need to make sure that our roads meet the community and that the weapons station property gets developed in a way that ensures people can live and work here," she said.
In a candidate statement, Kurpieski said he wants to focus on improving the city's downtown BART station.
"This station is the gateway to our city and we want to put our best foot forward," he wrote. "We are proud of our city and want to ensure that people's first impression of Concord is one of community concern."
Camacho, who is active with the Monument Crisis Center and Rainbow Community Center, listed affordable housing for senior citizens, environmental restoration of the naval weapons station and creating independent neighborhood watch groups as priorities in campaign literature. Camacho is running a grass-roots campaign and is not asking for contributions.
In her candidate statement, Davis-Lucey, a deputy conservator with Contra Costa County Health Services, billed herself as being fiscally responsible and socially progressive.
"I look forward to tackling the current and future issues that will maintain and keep the city of Concord a safe and memorable place to live," she noted.
David DeBolt covers Concord and Clayton. Reach him at 925-943-8048.
Channel 28 at 10 a.m. on Oct. 13, 20, 26, 27, 28; and Nov. 2, 3, 4, 5