With plenty of empty seats, last week's candidate forum conducted by the League of Women Voters of the Livermore-Amador Valley may have shown either a lack of interest in the Nov. 2 municipal election or that many voters have already cast their ballots.
About 40 people turned out at 7 p.m. for a one-hour question-and-answer session for the four candidates vying for two seats on the City Council: incumbents Cheryl Cook-Kallio and Jerry Thorne, and challengers Karla Brown and Fred Watson.
The audience dwindled to about 20 observers for the second portion of the evening beginning at 8 p.m. between Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and challenger City Councilwoman Cindy McGovern.
Questions that focused on preferences given to developers and endorsements by unions indicated that some in the audience had come to support the challengers. Differences quickly emerged as Brown and McGovern positioned themselves as in the running to listen to people's concerns and not ignore them.
"I attended almost every City Council meeting in the last three years and I saw what it's like to be an active citizen and not be listened to," Brown said.
The incumbents pointed out Pleasanton's successes under their leadership.
"We've been able to deliver quality services for a whole lot less," said Hosterman about the fire and police departments.
"What is meant by a grassroots campaign? It is important or a worn-out concept?" asked one question.
"I'm so grassroots my fingers are green," said Brown. "It means long hours and not a lot of money and I'm proud of that."
"I am participating in a grassroots campaign," said Thorne. "I show up for events, talk to people. I don't think it's a worn-out concept."
"I'm currently in one, the Tea Party," said Watson. "It's our constitutional process at work. I'm 100% for it."
Cook-Kallio recalled walking precincts while still in her 20s.
"Very early in my life I realized the power of the word," she said. "I believe in listening, not just when campaigning but when in office."
The council candidates agreed that the fiscal health of Pleasanton is a priority.
"We need to return business to Pleasanton. It used to be a thriving economic center," said Brown.
"The most important thing is to protect our revenue stream," Cook-Kallio said. She also noted that a lot of work is being done behind the scenes to attract businesses.
Thorne listed his priorities as the community's fiscal health plus a "growth management plan that focuses on our infrastructure."
Watson said his priorities would be first, to establish a business group coalition; and second, transparency. "I believe everything Pleasanton is doing should be on our website."
The council candidates made closing statements, in part, as follows:
• Watson: "We need to remember what built America -- business men and business women. We need to embrace business as a virtue."
• Thorne: "Take a look at each of us in our proven leadership ability. It doesn't take leadership ability to polarize the community; it does take leadership ability to bring people together."
• Cook-Kallio: "It's important to understand that in the next four years, we need a plan. Where is the revenue stream? How are we going to pay for services? ... I have the ability to listen to the entire community."
• Brown: "I would like us to be fiscally sound, address unsustainable pensions. ... I have a strong commitment to ridgeline protection ... I don't like citizens referred to as 'nimbys' and 'obstructionists.'"
Hosterman opened the mayoral forum by stating: "I feel I have a great track record, and I'm running on my track record."
McGovern said, "My candidacy offers you a leadership choice. ... I want to rebuild trust in local government."
From there they moved to questions about where to locate workforce housing, current and impending issues, Kottinger Gardens, maintaining the cemetery and whether they supported the process of initiatives and referendums.
A question asking why Measure D to approve the Oak Grove development was on the ballot in June instead of November brought different responses.
"I wanted it in November so we would have more time to study it," replied McGovern.
"I thought it was such a hot issue that I wanted to have it and put it behind us," Hosterman said.
Why have the City Council and the mayor not addressed pension reform until now? was another question submitted.
"I think we have," said Hosterman. "We started a year ago having the discussion, both in white papers and city managers getting together."
"Pension reform is on the top of the heap for a lot of people throughout the state of California," she added. "Over the next few years we're going to get there."
"I think this is something the City Council needs to study more," McGovern said. "We need workshops to look at this complex issue and look at the best ways of making changes."
When asked to describe what experience in city government qualifies them to be mayor, Hosterman answered, in addition to her six years as mayor and two as a councilwoman, "I think passion in No. 1. You need to be passionate about our community to do a good job. You need to be accessible. After so many years I have so much knowledge. We want to tell you everything we've learned, but we need to just shut up and listen."
McGovern cited her 16 years on the school board and council.
"You can see I'm a hard worker and work with staff well," she said. "I'm very fair. It took all the volunteer hours and money of all the members of the community to make Pleasanton what it is today. I will be very respectful. I want (people) to be engaged and feel respected."
Among the final questions was a loaded one: "Explain the preferential treatment for developers over ordinary people."
"That doesn't happen," said Hosterman. "Anyone who watches City Council meetings knows better. We do enjoy relationships and I think that's a good thing. But at the end of the day I'm about providing projects that are best for the community."
"I believe there is preferential treatment occurring at City Council meetings," said McGovern. She went on to explain that Mayor Hosterman organizes the speaker cards so that paid consultants go last, which does not give residents the chance to ask them questions.
The moderator allowed Hosterman to respond.
"People said, 'I want to go first and then go home and watch it on TV,'" she explained. "So everyone who doesn't get paid to be here gets to go home."
"I think the public should be able to respond to something," countered McGovern.
The forum is being aired on TV29 at 5 p.m. Wednesdays and at 11 p.m. Fridays.