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Why Does Councilwoman Denny Want to Unseat Mayor Tanaka?

A political observer digs deeper into Coronado's hot political contest between Casey Tanaka and Barbara Denny. He doesn't like the answers he's finding.

Did you know Coronado is a council-manager form of government, not a strong-mayor form of government?

What does that mean, you ask?

It means that the citizens of Coronado elect a four-person council and a mayor, all at-large. It is this political body that then hires a city manager to organize, run and manage the day-to-day affairs of the city bureaucracy.

Blair King, Coronado’s city manager, is effectively our CEO. The city council members are his board of directors. Mayor Tanaka is the chairman. This board, or council, sets the vision for the city.

Specifically, this means that the City Council proposes, develops and mandates policies, ordinances and long-range plans for Coronado’s government. It is the city manager’s role to implement all of this.
Okay, so most likely you already know all this.

Here’s a better question: What sets the mayor apart from the council?
In a council-manager form of government this position is not that powerful. Sorry Mayor Tanaka, sorry Councilwoman Denny.

The mayor’s role in Coronado for all intents and purposes is a ceremonial one. He doesn’t set the meeting agenda, he doesn’t administer the parks and recreation department. The city manager does.

He does run the meetings, however. He can control the tempo and decorum of council meetings. And, that’s important. The mayor, symbolically, is our leader. When the mayor is cutting ribbons at store openings, you want to be proud that person is standing there.

But, in the end, the Mayor has one vote, just like the council members.
With these facts in mind, why does council member Denny want to unseat Mayor Tanaka?

Did he toss the city into a pool of red ink? Nope.

And, even if he did, Denny’s ability to change the city’s path is only as strong as her ability to persuade the rest of the council to come along with her program.

Whatever one's gripes are with Mayor Tanaka, it takes a majority of council members to make a decision, to direct the city manager to implement a new policy.

Tanaka is not a strong mayor because Coronado does not have that form of government, but he is a level-headed one. He sets a smooth tone that allows his council colleagues to deliberate fairly and substantively.

Over the last few years, Tanaka and most of the council members have worked together to set the course for the next phase of our city. He is part of a consensus, a coalition of council members who are working as a team to move Coronado ahead.

If one doesn’t like where the council is taking the city, work to throw the whole lot out or make change from within, but switching one’s seat from a council member to a mayor is ineffective and insincere.

Strong leadership and vision can be rooted in a council seat.

Council member Denny can do this. She could build coalitions with her council colleagues to achieve the planks on her political platform. She has a solid following of concerned citizens who want to see her goals implemented.

However, without striking working relationships with her council colleagues these objectives will never see the light of day. She is just one vote of five.

Do you see my point? She isn’t leading. She is an outlier.

To be mayor, you must take the reins. You must compromise when necessary. You must be able to work with your fellow elected leaders.

The mayor’s seat in Coronado is a symbol. It is a symbol of leadership.

Mayor Tanaka spent years as a council member earning our respect and that of his colleagues before he was elected mayor.

Let’s illustrate our support for him by voting him in to another four years as our mayor. It would be a strong and symbolic vote.

Ideas for discussion not people November 02, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Beautifully written.
dj November 02, 2012 at 09:35 PM
We have been blessed with some very strong mayors in the past and they were not ceremonial.... The author of this article knows better...he served on the CHA board and is well aware that Mayor Smisek during that time was not like the Queen MUM... As a Coronado High alum, the author is understandably loyal to the fabulous teacher everyone loves...Casey and all of our Mayors have been very effective, and the one vote they carry is not the whole story in the decision making process. The last line of his article is embarrassingly misleading.. Our votes are now symbolic?.. The Mayor is ceremonial and our votes are symbolic? I am disappointed that Patch would publish this as factual.. it is an editorial at best. Are the qualifications for the authors title "Political Observer" real or figurative?
Bob McInerney November 02, 2012 at 09:44 PM
\Mayor Tanaka is without question one of the best Mayors Coronado has had in my 50+ years of living in Coronado. He has my respect for the manner in which he does his job as Mayor of Coronado. In my opinion Ms. Denny is all about herself and would be nothing but a major pitfall for the City Manager of Coronado. Her council meetings would last up to seven hours while she raved on about the ham radio programs.
David November 02, 2012 at 10:15 PM
dj - At the top of the page I see the words "Opinion" and "election." I assume that means the Patch considers material on this page to be opinion about the election. It's an editorial, clearly stated.
Patchwork November 02, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Thank you Whitney
El Chico November 02, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Whitney Benzian's hit piece on Councilwoman Barbara Denny is a last ditch attempt to prop up the incumbent mayor who described himself at the Optimist forum as a "caretaker" mayor. This is new. In earlier forums, he described himself as a "facilitator" mayor. This means he just doesn't want to work hard, so he doesn't. He hasn't done much positive in the last 10 years so he has no record of achievements to which to point. So all he can do is attack Councilwoman Denny. First, if Benzian actually lives in Coronado, I'd be surprised. Last I heard, he lives in San Diego. He has a history with the incumbent as noted in another comment since he's a graduate of Coronado High School. Giving Benzian the title of "Political Observer" is misleading. He's not an impartial observer. He's a designated partisan for Tanaka because Tanaka can't get elected on his own record. Growing up here and attacking Barbara is their only platform. It's very sad that Tanaka has been on council for 10 years and can't point to concrete examples of his actions to benefit our residents. Barbara, who has been on council for 3 years, has run circles around Tanaka and has been the hardest working advocate for residents and small business owners on Council.
El Chico November 02, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Barbara has been very clear and detailed at every forum, in her campaign literature and website, and at council meetings over the last three years. Here are the facts as to why she is running for Mayor in Optimist forum video from Thursday: We're losing our village atmosphere. Our neighborhoods are too crowded. Our beach is too commercial. Orange Avenue is turning into a nightclub strip. Barbara said she shares the vision of residents for a clean, quiet, safe, residential, family-oriented, law abiding community that strikes the right balance between lifting our local economy with tourism dollars and providing a wonderful place to live for Coronado families. Barbara said we need our city to listen to residents and we need a mayor with the courage to stand up for our residents. Therefore, as Barbara said, we need a change in mayoral leadership. I agree. When you're sliding in the wrong direction, a change in leadership is necessary. Barbara's successful record in getting things done for residents is known all over our island. People tell me, "If you want anything done, go talk to Barbara Denny." Barbara listens, understands and is resourceful. Do you want more bike racks on the beach, a cross walk at C and First, to stop the wasteful Tunnel spending, reduce the number of extreme illegal vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods, stop the sale of alcohol at Starbucks? On these items and more, Barbara Denny got results for us.
El Chico November 02, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Only other one council member is assured a seat after November 6th - Al Ovrom. Mike Woiwode and Casey Tanaka are likely on their way out of office, based on their below standard performances in their current roles. If Benzian is a "political observer" on any level, he knows this. It's disingenuous for him to try to resurrect the big lie about Barbara. Everyone who knows her knows she is easy to get along with and she works well with everyone -- even the four other very difficult people who sit on council at the present moment. Everyone who has been paying attention to city council knows that Barbara is highly effective. She is the only real leader on council. Tanaka ran for Mayor in 2008 while sitting in the same council seat that Barbara now holds. Barbara is only doing what Tanaka did in 2008. When he vacated his council seat, Barbara ran for it and won it. Then she was re-elected to her seat in 2010. Barbara has no secret agendas. Benzian knows this, which is what makes his article all the more sad. When Benzian wanted to be Coronado Port Commissioner, only one member of council supported him -- Barbara Denny. Why is Benzian so desperate that he's trying to curry favor with the current mayor who didn't think enough of Benzian to vote to name him Port Commissioner? I'm looking forward to voting for Barbara on November 6th and I encourage you to do the same.
Tips November 03, 2012 at 12:30 AM
Whitney: Your editorial is beyond short sighted - - it is down right blind. There are so many things wrong with what you said: 1) according to the heading of your editorial and the points you try to make within, you are bewildered as to why Barbara would want to run for Mayor when the position (according to you) is powerless. Really? It is so sad that people like you (and Casey) only have the desire for power as the motivating factor for serving in office. Thankfully, we have Barbara. She has other reasons such as serving as a public servant to the people of Coronado in the best way possible. She is doing a great service to the people by replacing our current mayor who does not believe he serves the residents, instead the residents are to serve him.
Tips November 03, 2012 at 12:31 AM
2) That being said, I also disagree with your claim that the Mayor's role is powerless and largely ceremonial. That may be the case for the Coronado of 1912 but not 2012. The City of San Diego was, like Coronado, a city manager form of government up until 2006 yet the Mayor (if a good one) had a lot of influence and power. It is what you make of it. You can either by a mayor like Casey and only cut ribbons, come in to work at 3pm, make your single vote, tell residents you can't do much to help them and then go home, OR you can be a leader and strive for more for your residents working tirelessly. The city manager looks for direction from the Mayor in setting the meeting agendas and the tone at City Hall not just in the meetings but in all those private meetings that we are not privy to. Do you think the mayor has no power in the meetings he (or she) has with people that come lobby him (or her)? A weak ceremonial mayor like Casey perhaps just sits there and agrees with every proposal that out of town lobbyists present to him. And then does nothing to oppose a plan that the residents don't like because after all, he is just one vote. Well Whitney, I want more from my mayor. I would like a strong leader who not only votes but advocates publicly for the residents.
Tips November 03, 2012 at 12:32 AM
Barbara will be the strong leader Coronado has been lacking. She is strong and confident, driven by the energy of the residents who stand behind her as opposed to the hunger for power that motivates Casey and his supporters. You have shown us a great example of the type of mentality that has been bringing Coronado down. It is not shared by the rest of us. We are ready for a change.
Erin Brown November 03, 2012 at 03:50 AM
I'm going to say what I said to my six-year-old: You don't have to be rude to be strong. You can stand up for your beliefs and be a strong, effective leader without being rude. From watching video and reading transcripts of city council meetings, Barbara Denny comes off as a troublemaker who doesn't play well with others. She may be a perfectly lovely and kind person in "real life" but if she can't get along with the rest of the council, nothing is ever going to get done. When it's generally four against one, is it really the four that are being difficult? It's very telling that so many current and former elected officials in Coronado stand behind Mayor Tanaka.
Patchwork November 03, 2012 at 05:22 AM
hmmmmmmmm.....the attacking seems to be coming from your direction...If I were only a psychologist. But to the point. I like a level headed facilitator as my mayor. Someone who doesn't think he has all the answers because that is not his job. His job is to listen to and encourage participation from the residents of Coronado. He is an historian and respects and knows Coronado's unique history and ties that in to our city's current socioeconomic environment. As a resident of Coronado for 38 years, it is my opinion that has been well suited as our Mayor and I look forward to another term.
El Chico November 03, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I can tell, Patchwork, that you haven't seen a lot of Tanaka in action over the past 10 years. If you're paying attention, it's clear that he is not well suited to be mayor. In his past 4 years he's been especially abusive with the mayor's gavel. He cuts off and shouts down residents and council members who disagree with him. He cuts off and interrupts staff continually. He doesn't listen to and encourage participation from residents. He does the opposite. Tanaka is extremely intolerant of people with views that are different from his. He has all the answers. At the Cays candidates forum last month, he was an engineering expert and he said "The problem with your entrance is the sight line of your stone wall. You need to take down your wall and put up a chain link fence so you can see through it better." The audience groaned. Check out the city website at www.coronado.ca.us council meeting of August 21, 2012, Agenda item # 5K - "Approve mitigation measures to prevent golf balls from entering Coronado tennis center grounds and courts": http://coronado.12milesout.com/PublicMeetings/MeetingVideo?ID=924ebfbb-79cf-4f78-a390-a2b0942680cb Watch as Mr. Tanaka, the Logistics expert wastes the council’s time with some zany ideas. (cont'd)
El Chico November 03, 2012 at 03:42 PM
He said "We need a loud warning buzzer in the tennis center. After the golfer swings, we need a button near the tee that he could press so it would ring a buzzer in the tennis center and tennis players would know to look up for stray golf balls coming in." Undeterred by the golf director who stated his opposition to Tanaka's golf buzzer idea, the current mayor then said "We could make golfers at the tee yell 'fore' into a microphone that would be piped into the tennis center and then tennis players would hear 'fore' and get out of the way of stray golf balls" that land in the tennis center area. He failed to reached consensus with that idea too. We can't afford another four years of this. We have real financial issues that require a real leader, not a weak “facilitator” who doesn't understand our finances. Over the course of this election season, Tanaka has been taking credit for what he calls a "surplus" in the operating budget ending June 2012. He doesn't comprehend that we are underfunding our pension at only about 60% plus we'll likely be in the hole for more than $60 million of "loan transfers" that HE HIMSELF voted for from our general fund tax dollars to the former CDA (our redevelopment agency). That adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars that we are in the red.
El Chico November 03, 2012 at 03:43 PM
So when Mr Tanaka asserts that we had a $3 million "surplus" in June 2012, it's obvious (1) he's stretching the truth because our finance director announced there was a $1.7 million "surplus" and (2) he doesn't understand our complex city finances. Time for a change. I'm voting for Barbara for mayor and I urge you to join me. Barbara is a real leader who listens to residents and local business owners. Barbara has proven that, unlike the current mayor, she protects our tax dollars instead of wasting them.
El Chico November 03, 2012 at 04:52 PM
The only rude mayoral candidate I've seen is Casey Tanaka. If you watch council videos and read council transcripts, its plain who is abrupt with other council members, staff and the public. You would also see that Barbara is the council member who speaks well and makes her decisions based on the public, facts and the law, not on emotions or personal favors like others. Barbara works well with everyone, even the four other council members who have treated her very poorly since their defeat over the Coronado Tunnel project. Barbara led our strong grass roots group to Stop Tunnel Spending and Kiss the Tunnel Goodbye. Nearly 70% of the voters shut down the wasteful Coronado Tunnel project in June 2010 through their NO vote on Prop H. It was the best thing to happen for Coronado taxpayers who didn't want to pay parcel taxes and $10 bridge tolls (as proposed by Mr Tanaka) to pay for a tunnel that the no one would drive in for safety reasons. Those other current and former council members listed at Tanaka supporters were all Tunnel supporters. They did not appreciate Barbara's effort to end their 10-year pet project by letting voters decide.
El Chico November 03, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Barbara has built consensus on city council among the current mayor and three other council members for many positive items, many of which Barbara initiated on the agenda herself or through city staff. Here are a few highlights of Barbara's leadership in building consensus and working well with others: -Certified Coronado as a National Weather Service Tsunami Ready & Storm Ready city -Removed 2 lobbying firms from city payroll -Stopped abusive vacation rentals in three Coronado neighborhoods by enforcing the city code proactively -Stopped sale of alcohol at Starbucks -Saved an historic home from demolition by enforcing the city code proactively -Passed unanimous resolution to support removal of South Bay power plant -Passed unanimous resolution to support Cays plan for no development on Grand Caribe Isle. Don't believe everything you hear about Barbara. Ask for the evidence. People that are trying to hang on to power and continue to get special treatment from our city don't want Barbara to be mayor. She's honest, fair and not beholden to special interests. The negative smear campaign against Barbara intentionally distorts the facts.
Patchwork November 03, 2012 at 05:53 PM
El Chico, you sure know way more than the average citizen of Coronado about every detail that has gone on in the city council....could you actually be Barbara Denny? On another note, there was an interesting article in the Eagle on Wednesday that showed that of the $11,825 that was raised for Barbara's campaign, $10,000 came from Barbara her self. She had a total of 17 donors. To me, that shows very little real support from our Community. On the other hand, Mayor Tanaka put $100 into his Campaign, raising a total of $17,895 with a total of 99 donors. An interesting comparison to contemplate.
Patchwork November 03, 2012 at 06:56 PM
What really frightens me about Denny is her ability to make a claim that simply is not true. I was listening to NPR last night on this very disturbing trend in politics. It is called the political narrative. The candidate simply repeats their claims over and over even if it in not true because the story/myth fits nicely into a belief system or fear. For instance Barbara continues to say that she built consensus on council to pass a resolution for Coronado Cays against over development of Grand Caribe Isle. Here is a quote from Jerry Mitchell who is a resident of the cays. "Wow what a whopper that is. For 17 years now the Grand Caribe Task Force made up of Cays residents had successfully gained the endorsement of the City of Coronado on every single occasion where Grand Caribe development has become an issue. That dates back to Mayor Smisek's first term right on through to Casey Tanaka. Barbara Denny had absolutely no part in this! Is she implying that she had to convince other council members to continue this favorable endorsement? How absurd" He and others go on about these absurd claims in the Editorial section of this weeks Eagle. My Biggest fear is that she is somewhat delusional and actually believes (for one example) that she did bring consensus to the council. I believe that this type of character makes the most dangerous kind of leader.
El Chico November 03, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Patchwork, no I'm not Barbara, but thank you for the compliment. I am not in the public eye, but I follow city hall very closely. I'm glad Barbara is in the trenches working for us. We haven't had such a hard working advocate for residents in a long time. Regardless of how Barbara chooses to fund her campaign, I know her votes aren't for sale. If you are relying on Eagle editorials and Jerry Mitchell for facts, then you are relying on biased information. The Eagle has been biased against Barbara ever since her victory in leading the end of the waste of our tax dollars on the Tunnel project when nearly 70% of the voters shut down that boondoggle in 2010 by voting NO on Proposition H. In case you are unaware, their reporter who repeatedly attacks Barbara diminished his credibility in our town. Ask him directly about his experience and you'll understand why. You may remember that he wrote that he was a part of the pro-Tunnel minority in one of his earlier attacks on Barbara. That pro-Tunnel minority includes the current mayor and the current and former politicians who Tanaka lists as his "endorsers." You also may remember that Barbara ran against Jerry Mitchell in 2009 and beat him to win her council seat. It seems he is still very cranky about it and he once returned Barbara's "Hello" at a candidate forum with a loud obscenity to Barbara that was heard by members of the public.
El Chico November 03, 2012 at 08:52 PM
I'm voting for Barbara for Coronado Mayor. We can't afford four more years of a mayor who exaggerates a $1.7 million "surplus" on an annual budget into a $3 million surplus, while failing to comprehend that by his policy of underfunding our city pension program we are in the red tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. Coronado needs a real leader and that's why I'm voting for Barbara for Mayor.
jan clark November 03, 2012 at 11:22 PM
I agree completely w/ this comment by El Chico. Barbara has worked tirelessly for all the residents of Coronado
Kate November 04, 2012 at 12:34 AM
I find it interesting that Tanaka was one of the first people to sign Dina Shacknai's petition to get the CPD to reopen the investigation of her son's death.....yet he then stated early in the day that Dina was to appear before the Coronado City Council meeting that he supported the CPD's decision to not reopen the investigation......So what is it Casey? Whose side are you really on in any matter? You just seem to be on an ego trip, IMO.
El Chico November 04, 2012 at 03:52 AM
Okay Patchwork, now you're suggesting my candidate, Ms Denny is unstable, so I suggest your are losing this exchange. As proof, I am going to show you some data about where the candidates stand in relation to each other. Below is an e-mail I received from Dr Allen Jost, a Coronado resident, statistician and a fellow Barbara Denny supporter, among other things. He’s allowed me to post this. Lets see who the real outliers are: "Jost: Today, November 2, 2012, I completed a preliminary statistical review of the Coronado CAN Voter's Guide based on Likert Scale technology. (I have a Ph. D. in Statistics.) "Not surprisingly, the current mayor’s responses disagree with Councilwoman Barbara Denny, Coronado Mayoral Candidate, more than any other candidate. His responses agree with council member candidate Woiwode’s the most. Below is a table that reflects the average absolute response difference to all 56 CAN Questions between the current mayor and all the other candidates, as an example of the differences between responses. The number “1” in the table, for example, means that the mayor, on average, is “one response” away from the other candidate for all 56 questions. So, if the average response for one candidate to all questions is “No Opinion”, then “one response away”, on average, from that is either “agree” or “disagree”. For example, the Table shows that Mayor Tanaka is, on average, 1.88 responses away from Mayoral Candidate Barbara Denny.
El Chico November 04, 2012 at 03:52 AM
"Average Response Difference on CAN Questions from Mayor Tanaka by the other Candidates: Denny 1.88 
Keith 1.59 
 McPherson 1.45 Bailey 1.21 
 Roesch 1.14 
 Woiwode 0.84 

 Tanaka 0.0” "Mayoral Candidate Barbara Denny has the most variability in her answers and council member candidate Roesch has the least variability. High variability means, in general, responses that reflect opinions that span the entire range from "Strongly Agree" to "Strongly Disagree" while low variability means that the opinions are generally close to only one response, such as "No Opinion" or "Agree" or "Disagree", and there are generally few opinions at the extremes, such as "Strongly Agree" or "Strongly Disagree". 

"All the candidates overall "average responses" tend to be slightly toward “agree” (agree with the question) relative to the CAN statements except Woiwode, whose average response tends, in general, to be slightly toward “disagree” to the question. The CAN statements addressed issues of importance to residents."
El Chico November 04, 2012 at 03:55 AM
"I support Barbara Denny for Mayor. I believe that anyone, like the current mayor, who does NOT think that government employee pensions are too high (Casey Tanaka "disagreed" with CAN Question # 21, "Coronado pensions are too high, e.g. former city manager M. Ochenduszko $146,659 after 15 years service") must be either not concerned with the overall financial health of the city or is a member of an elite group that believes ridiculous and outrageously generous government employee pensions are deserved or are an entitlement. I'm voting for Barbara for Mayor and I urge you to do so, too. ~ Allen Jost, Ph.D." So there you have it - Mr Tanaka and Ms Denny have very different opinions about Coronado. And the council candidates, except Mr Woiwode from the current council are closer in their opinions to Barbara than to Casey. No one is delusional. Like Dr Jost, I too am making the smart choice for Mayor of Coronado - Barbara Denny. I encourage you to vote for Barbara on Nov. 6.
Jkru November 06, 2012 at 03:00 AM
I demand liquor at Starbucks! I also thInk they should sell pop rocks there

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