Bakersfield has the good fortune of having two solid candidates to replace Harvey Hall, the only mayor many first-time voters will have ever known. Hall, legendary for both his long stint of dedicated service to the city and his array of tailor-made suits, leaves after a city-record four terms.
Both Kyle Carter and Karen Goh, the survivors of a remarkably diverse and enthusiastic field of 25 primary-election candidates, are worthy and well-equipped to succeed him.
In a close call, we like Carter, who has succeeded as both a multi-faceted businessman and in public service.
Carter, a 59-year-old Bakersfield native, is a Kern Community College District trustee and proprietor of several businesses, including a concert venue/recording studio that promises to further enliven the city’s once-moribund east-of-Chester corridor.
Goh, 60, is the chief executive officer of Garden Pathways, a nonprofit organization that provides early childhood and arts education for kids, as well as mentoring for youth and adults. She has done tremendously important work in that role.
Their styles differ. Carter, who sprinkles his remarks with self-deprecating humor, projects a down-to-earth image in his jeans and cowboy boots. Goh is more polished in her smart, professional suits, signature scarves and businesslike demeanor.
Carter hails from a family of builders. He estimates his companies have built 5,000 homes in Bakersfield over the past four decades. His most famous company, Kyle Carter Homes, topped $100 million in revenue and employed 300 people before he sold it and three other companies in 2003 to San Diego-based Corky McMillin Cos. He established a well-deserved reputation for quality, consistency and vision that’s on exhibit again at the beautifully renovated Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame on Q Street.
He’s clearly in give-back mode.
Goh describes herself as “an ordinary person who’s had an extraordinary life.” Born in India, she spent her early childhood in London. She moved to Bakersfield in 1962, when her parents came to lead what is now Garden Community Church.
A 1973 graduate of Bakersfield High School, she earned a bachelor’s degree in music from USC. She was teaching music at Bakersfield Christian Life Schools when she attended a conference and attracted the interest of publishing executives. Initially she was offered a temporary position at the New York headquarters of what now is known as McGraw-Hill Cos. Before returning to Bakersfield in 2005, she held managing editor and vice president titles with the company.
Their respective supporters agree both Carter and Goh would make good mayors. Both have extensive community service records. Both have served in public offices — Carter on the community college board, Goh as an Arnold Schwarzenegger appointment to fill a short-term vacancy on the Kern County Board of Supervisors. Leticia Perez won the seat outright in 2012, denying Goh’s bid for a full, four-year term.
Some may say the job of Bakersfield mayor is no big deal. Cut a few ribbons; show up at community events; oversee meetings; and vote once in a while to break a City Council tie. Bakersfield has a strong city manager form of government, rendering the mayor’s job mostly ceremonial.
But an effective mayor should also know how to bring people together and motivate them. And that, in an environment where volunteerism and buy-in are essential components of success, requires a deft touch. We think Carter has it.
Carter said it best when he recently reflected on his goals as mayor: “I don’t want to be four years down the road apologizing for not getting anything done. That would be the biggest tragedy of all. I’m not going to kick the can down the road. I’m going to get something done.”
Both Goh and Carter can do this job, and well. It’s almost a coin flip, but we’ll take Kyle Carter’s easy-going, can-do spirit.