The Ward 6 seat on the Bakersfield City Council will soon be filled by someone other than Jacquie Sullivan for the first time since 1995.
The four candidates who have stepped up to try to succeed Sullivan, who is not running for reelection, come from varying backgrounds and have many differing ideas about how to take on the challenges facing the city. It will be up to the voters of Ward 6 to choose who they want to be their next representative.
Endorsed by Sullivan herself, Patty Gray says she has the same value system as the woman she hopes to succeed, but she is her own person.
“I’m a decision-maker. It’s not hard for me to make decisions,” she said. “I’m not here to follow in her footsteps and become (Sullivan’s) clone.”
The co-owner of DreamMaker Bath and Kitchen, Gray, 63, describes herself as a wife, a mother and a businesswoman. She says she never planned on being a politician, but as she nears the end of her professional career she wants to give back to the community that has allowed her to thrive.
“I’ve always wanted to live my life with purpose,” she said. “I’m close to retirement age now and that will be coming and I don’t want to just live my life frivolously where I’m not making a difference.”
She said she is a woman of faith, and pointed to her experience as a businesswoman who survived the recession of 2009 as valuable to running a city. Public safety is a chief concern. She said she hopes to prevent the protests that have happened in cities across the country from occurring in Bakersfield.
“I want to see the average citizen be able to thrive in our city and not just survive,” she said. “It’s very important that their families are living in a place where they feel safe and secure.”
A U.S. Army veteran who was in Germany when the Berlin Wall fell, Gregory Tatum hopes to use his position on the City Council if he is elected to benefit veterans.
“I’m interested in veterans and also the homeless,” Tatum said. “Many times our veterans have a hard time finding employment because of certain injuries they suffered. Because of the pandemic, a lot of veterans have lost their jobs.”
Tatum, 61, is the pastor at Change Community Church. He has been working as a community activist for the last 12 years, focusing on gang and drug violence.
“I can see things that the other candidates can’t see,” he said, “having been out there in the streets, and communicating with some people that have been involved in terrible acts of violence and crime.”
He said he would focus on revitalizing Ward 6 if elected, which he described as having depreciated during Sullivan’s political career. He previously ran for mayor, but says winning a seat as the Ward 6 representative would allow him to focus on his constituents.
“I can have better hands-on in District 6,” he said. “I can have a more strategic plan, a better one-on-one with some of the constituents, versus trying to reach the whole city. This will be a perfect opportunity for my ward to benefit.”
The youngest candidate on the list, Jesse Quijada nevertheless has some big ideas about how best to help the ward’s residents.
A 22-year-old medical assistant at two local urgent care centers, Quijada says he hopes to bring back integrity and transparency to the City Council.
He has helped lead the COVID-19 response at Universal Urgent Care and StatMD Urgent Care, where he works, and he has experience working in government as well.
At 15, he said, he worked for San Jose City Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco before starting on the campaign for state Sen. Jim Beall.
“Basically, I’m a young guy who has moved to Bakersfield within the last five years or so, and I had just seen so many things here that I knew could be changed,” he said. “I decided it was best to have someone with a background in politics, and a background in getting the job done being the representative for this community.”
Seemingly drawn to public service for most of his life, Quijada served in AmeriCorps in 2017 during a destructive hurricane season in which he helped people in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
After AmeriCorps, he said, he was offered a job with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which he eventually resigned from after saying he witnessed politicized decisions from the agency’s leaders that went against the department’s mission.
“I did have a promising future at FEMA, but ultimately I felt the atmosphere of it was you had to play their games to continue to move up,” he said, “and unfortunately I wasn’t willing to do that.”
Titus Stevens, 41, uses his upbringing in Compton as a foundation for his campaign for the Ward 6 seat. He says he witnessed the effects of the city disbanding its police department in 2000, and hopes to protect the Bakersfield Police Department from the same fate.
The recent protests that erupted across the country as a result of the death of Black residents at the hands of law enforcement prompted Stevens to run for office. He says he sees parallels between the 2020 protests and the Rodney King riots, which he also witnessed.
“None of those businesses ever came back,” he said of his neighborhood following the Rodney King riots. “The dairy that was around the corner from my house never was rebuilt. We had to start driving out further and further.”
He hopes to launch more programs for the BPD to interact with local youths, and said working with people of all political persuasions is a priority.
“We don’t have politicians in office anymore. We have activists,” he said. “Once you start getting to where you’re not working together, you don’t want a solution. We need people that are actually willing to work, that want a solution.”
Aside from his opposition to defunding the police, he mentioned his desire to bring more job opportunities to the people of Bakersfield as a prime issue.
“My slogan is, ‘Together we can keep Bakersfield a great place to live,’” he said. “Because there are great ideas on both sides ... If we work together, we can keep this city running smoothly.”