December 8 will be a day that lives in infamy, at least for Oceanside city councilmember Jerry Kern. That's when residents decide whether to recall the first-term councilmember from office.
Three weeks ago, activist group Citizens to Recall Kern submitted more than 11,000 signatures to the city clerk's office. They assert that Kern's vote to cut public safety, his pro-developer tendencies, and his defense of mobile park owners looking to abolish rent control are more than enough reasons to oust him from the council.
Yet, for Kern, the recall effort reeks of employee union influence. He says employee unions have stuck a target on his back for trying to reduce the city's ballooning pension costs and for making cuts to public safety. Kern says the city's firefighters earn the second-highest wage in the county and they want him out of office before their contract expires at the end of the year.
"Our pension costs have been going up 33 percent a year for the past three or four years," said Kern during an August 19 phone interview. "It's unsustainable. The recall is a play by the labor unions to run the city council. The only reason they are doing it is that this is a contract year for employee negotiations. It's a waste."
In the past few weeks, Kern has had to ramp up a campaign, 11 months sooner than anticipated. "That's what has got everybody so angry. It's $500,000 [for the special election] and I'm up for reelection in November -- $500,000 to cut someone's term short by 11 months?"
Kern is devoting nearly 20 hours a week by going door-to-door, attending community meetings, posting signs throughout the city, and distributing fliers, stickers, and other campaign material. He's also out raising money, a difficult task during a down economy.
"It's just a weird message, telling people to vote no on something. Instead of saying vote for Jerry Kern, I'm saying vote no on the recall."
Adds Kern: "It's tough to raise money, but I've been raising it. With the down economy, people are struggling, and they aren't paying much attention to what's happening at city hall. They're worried about mortgage payments, gas prices, not the city council. My difficulty is to break through and tell them what the long-range ramifications would be if the unions took over city hall."
"These unions, if they keep going...I'm kind of that first domino. If they are successful here, you're going to see more of these campaigns throughout the state trying to take control of local city councils."
Jim Sullivan is one of the original 20 members who spearheaded the recall effort. He denies Kern’s claims that the labor union is behind the recall. “There’s nothing further from the truth,” says Sullivan. “The union funding helped us…but it was more than three months before we got any funding.”
For Sullivan, Kern’s conduct inside council chambers is a key issue. “There’s an arrogance with Mr. Kern, and an indifference to those in the community, and for environmental issues. Mr. Kern is an individual that’s not well suited with public service. He allows his temper to run the gamut.”
I asked Sullivan who he would support if the recall was successful. “Anybody would be better. Why don’t you run?”