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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Willie Rivera

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Ken Weir

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Bob Smith

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Russell Johnson, Ward 7 Bakersfield councilman

People can't start pulling papers to run for the Bakersfield City Council until July, but new financial statements show incumbents up for re-election in the southeast and southern areas are already building war chests and paying bills.

The opposite is true for the councilmen in the northeast and northwest areas of the city who will also be on the ballot. Neither has begun raising funds.

Up for re-election Nov. 4 are Willie Rivera in Ward 1, Ken Weir in Ward 3, Bob Smith in Ward 4 and Russell Johnson in Ward 7.

They, the council members not on November's ballot and Mayor Harvey Hall recently filed reports covering fund raising and spending from July 1 to Dec. 31, 2013.

Johnson, whose southern district extends from Ming Avenue to city limits on both sides of Highway 99, raised $67,734 during the latter half of 2013, the most of any incumbent, and $77,078 for the year.

Rivera, however, outpaced Johnson for the year in fundraising and spending.

He raised just $36,040 for the reporting period but $132,900 for the year.

The representative of Bakersfield's poorest area was elected June 4 to finish the un-expired term of now-Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, whom voters sent to Sacramento in November 2012.

Johnson's cash contributions list includes the region's rich and powerful alongside folks like Centennial Corridor foe Bob Braley, a retired Westpark resident who gave $125 to Johnson -- and $125 to his councilman, Ward 2 representative Terry Maxwell.


Seven people and groups each gave Johnson $3,000, the most anyone gave him, ranging from Planning Commissioner Patrick Wade to Bakersfield general contractor Steven Anderson of S.C. Anderson Inc. to Stan Ellis, owner of the Bakersfield Jam, a semi-pro basketball team.

Johnson received $1,000 each from Gene Voiland, an oilman and former co-owner of the Bakersfield Blaze, prominent attorney Milt Younger, and W. Reyneveld Construction, whose namesake William Reyneveld owned the historic Bakersfield Brewing Co. near downtown, demolished in December.

Much of the money he raised and spent in 2013 came from a September fundraiser, Johnson said -- an effort to get out in front of any competition.

"I just know that, as the old saying goes, 'Money is the mother's milk of politics,'" Johnson said. "I'm just humbled that so many people have come out and supported me so that, come election time, I have the ammo to put those mailers in mailboxes."

Johnson also received $2,500 from the Bakersfield Professional Firefighters Local 246 Political Action Committee, in a non-monetary donation covering the cost of an event. The PAC for the firefighters' union gave Rivera $4,100.

Hall, who owns Hall Ambulance, gave Johnson and Rivera each $500.

Spruce Street resident Wayne Kress, a real estate broker whose downtown neighborhood the city is paying to close by cul-de-sac to 24th Street traffic, gave $200 to Johnson, $125 to Maxwell, and $100 to Rivera.

Wade, Anderson, Ellis and Kress did not respond to requests for comment.

Former Bakersfield Mayor Mary K. Shell did. A former reporter for The Californian, Shell served as mayor from 1981 to 1985, followed by 12 years on the Kern County Board of Supervisors.


Shell, who gave $100 to Johnson and $125 to Maxwell, her councilman, said the cost of campaigning has risen exponentially since the 1960s, when her former husband Richard Hosking ran for council.

"I think the total spent was $3,000 and there was money left over so we returned it," Shell said, pointing out that council members -- who receive $100 per month plus $20 for each meeting they attend -- are not in this for immediate gain. "It's not for the money, so it's perhaps for looking at a future in politics, because basically -- who said it? -- all politics are local and of course the city council provides a platform if someone has political aspirations."

Political consultant Stan Harper, who worked with Johnson on his first campaign, said early fundraising can bankroll early spending -- both wise moves in an election season when candidates may be competing against each other and against those in other races for the same contributors.

"It's easier to raise money earlier on in a race than it is later. September to October of this year, senatorial, congressional, gubernatorial, they're all going to be out there raising money and there's only so much money to get," said Harper, pointing out that well-funded candidates may also make potential competition reconsider. "You raise money early on, people are going to say, 'Holy cow, there's no way I can compete.'"

Neither Johnson nor Rivera said they are currently contemplating higher office, though both will be running for re-election.


Rivera, who took office on June 26, 2013, must start campaigning again not much more than a year later if he hopes to win his second race in 17 months.

His campaign contributions reflect a higher concentration of union contributions during the reporting period -- seven union contributions to Johnson's two -- and an interest in politics that began in his teens and flowered when he went to work for then-state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter.

Nearly half of Rivera's campaign contributions for the reporting period -- $15,000 -- came from the Rubio for Senate 2014 committee. It was the largest contribution anyone made to Rivera.

Rubio, who also donated $5,000 to Rivera's council campaign in May, did not respond to requests for comment.

"He's a good friend and was still willing to support me," Rivera said of Rubio, pronouncing himself unsurprised by the amount of money that his campaign raised last year. "I think if you took a look at what most other folks have spent on an election for city council, I think I'm in the general vicinity."

Rivera's other large donations include $2,000 from the Bakersfield Police Officers Association, representing sworn officers.

"So far, we're happy with him being on the council," said BPOA President Todd Dickson, saying it was too early for endorsements. The $2,000 his union donated was to help Rivera retire campaign debt, Dickson said.

Rivera's smaller donations included $200 from Kern County Public Defender R. Konrad Moore and $500 from local attorney Daniel Rodriguez.


Unlike Johnson, Rivera spent $1,575 during this reporting period supporting other candidates and political groups, including $500 to Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez and $175 to the Kern County Democratic Central Committee.

Rivera's expenditures show $9,435 in credit card payments -- his largest area of expenditure. The candidate also paid $2,265 to Deane & Company, a Sacramento firm that provides campaign reporting services, and $2,221 to Firefighters Print & Design Inc. of Sacramento, for campaign paraphernalia.


Campaign statements for the other two incumbents up for re-election don't approach Rivera or Johnson in dollar amounts.

Weir, who is vice mayor and represents the northeast, raised no funds but donated $500 to Garden Pathways, a nonprofit that helps at-risk youth and families in crisis.

Weir also spent $1,800 on campaign literature and mailings from campaign consultant Mark Abernathy's company Western Pacific Research, leaving him with $13,644 in remaining funds.

Other Weir filings, however, show Weir for Education, a committee he formed to run for the Bakersfield City School District board, still owes WPR $39,500 -- seven years after he first won election to the city council and resigned from the BCSD post.

He's not alone.

Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan owes WPR $42,403 for running her previous campaigns.

That's a lot of money -- one-third of what Rivera raised last year. Former Congressman Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield, said he wonders when campaign debt begins to exact a different price.

"At what point is carrying a debt beyond a reasonable period of time not influencing a candidate?" asked Thomas, who was a client of Abernathy's.

Both Sullivan and Weir said that Abernathy and his firm have never played a role in their votes on council.

"As far as anyone being influenced by WPR, we do our own research," said Sullivan, who first joined the council on July 19, 1995, and will surpass former Ward 7 Councilman Mark Salvaggio on Aug. 21 as its longest-serving member ever.

"I've never been in a position where I felt awkward in the least. I vote my conscience and I continue to do that," Weir said.

Through a representative, Abernathy declined to comment.

Filings show Smith, who represents the northwest, loaned himself $10,000 and spent $250 on campaign filing fees and a late filing penalty.

That left Smith with $15,270 and $17,800 in debt -- the other $7,800 an earlier loan to himself.


Like Sullivan, council representatives in Wards 2 and 5 are not up for re-election until November 2016.

Maxwell started the reporting period with a $7,877 cash balance.

He raised $7,950 -- including $1,000 from Ward 5 Councilman Harold Hanson, who purchased tickets for an entire table at a Maxwell fundraiser -- and spent $5,816, leaving a balance of more than $10,000.

Hanson, who will not run for re-election, said he wanted to hear what the guest speaker at Maxwell's October event, an infrastructure expert, had to say.

Hanson's campaign statement shows he started the reporting period with a $27,939 cash balance, but received no contributions during 2013.

After spending $7,504 during the last reporting period, his remaining balance was $20,435.

Hall's campaign statement is the briefest of all. A mere three pages, it lists no contributions or expenditures for 2013, only a beginning and ending balance of $13,863.88.

A primary election for mayor will be held in June 2016, with a run-off in November 2016 if no one receives 50 percent of the votes plus one. The winner will take office in January 2017.