As we evaluate the candidates running for Antioch mayor and City Council, we consider the wake of financial devastation and the continuing rough currents ahead.
For that reason, we endorse candidates who have proved they can make tough decisions to keep the city afloat: Gary Agopian for mayor, and Jim Davis and Mary Rocha for City Council.
They have had to make extremely painful cuts to save the city from bankruptcy; we think they're prepared for what still lies ahead.
Antioch was one of the hardest-hit cities during the Great Recession, devastated by the foreclosure crisis, an unprecedented plunge in home values and the resulting decline in property tax revenues.
General fund expenditures have plummeted from $47 million six years ago to $34 million today. The mayor and City Council have had to reduce the sworn members of the police force by 25 percent and the number of workers elsewhere in city government by 44 percent.
Employees have given up raises and started making meaningful contributions to their pension plans. Meanwhile, the city has been left with a horrible financial hangover: $59 million of unfunded liabilities just for employee pensions and retiree health care, an amount equal to about 2½ years of base payroll.
Antioch has a separately elected mayor who serves as the leader of the City Council. The incumbent, Davis, has decided to run for one of the two council seats up for election, while incumbent councilmen Agopian and Wade Harper, who are both midway through their four-year terms, are among the four candidates running for mayor.
Adding confusion to the lineup, former mayor Don Freitas, who lost his re-election bid four years ago, seeks to return. We were surprised during our group interview by his confrontational approach to Agopian, who has successfully confronted the very difficult financial problems Freitas avoided because of his election defeat -- problems Freitas helped create.
Crime understandably stands out as a top issue in the race. We give Agopian, Davis and Rocha credit for their candor. Agopian talks about a possible future parcel tax to help restore some of the lost police officer positions. (It deserves consideration.) But all three say there are no easy answers for restoring the staffing to its past levels. We believe that, for the foreseeable future, they're right.
We were also impressed by council candidate Monica Wilson, who brings energy and relative youth (at 44 she's the youngest candidate for a council seat), and, in just six years as a city resident, has thrown herself into civic affairs.
We similarly consider Wade Harper a solid candidate for mayor but think Agopian has a better handle on the financial challenges ahead. If either Harper or Agopian wins the mayoral race, it would create a vacancy on the council, for which Wilson would be an excellent candidate.