AP NEWS

District candidates differ on mayor’s performance

April 10, 2019

The two candidates for the city of Pasadena’s District E position have differing views about the disagreements that frequently arise on the council over issues facing the city.

Joseph Thomas, who is vying against incumbent Cody Ray Wheeler in the May 4 election, said he is tired of seeing council members disagree just to disagree.

“You’re not going to get things done if you just argue about things,” said Thomas, 50, who works as a credit manager for National Oil Well Varco. “We got to come to a consensus and work together.”

However, Wheeler, a 33-year-old project manager for JW Turner Construction who has been on the council for six years, said disagreement and discussion are healthy in city government and that he will continue to voice his opinions.

“If you put nine people in a room and there’s no discussion or disagreement about anything, that’s a little strange,” said Wheeler, who is mayor pro tem. “I think everyone (on City Council) is giving their best effort to do what’s best for their district and the city of Pasadena.

“I don’t always get my way. Nobody always gets their way. But at the end of the day, we’re all working toward making Pasadena a better place,” he said.

The candidates also differ in assessing Mayor Jeff Wagner’s first term in office.

Thomas applauded the mayor’s response and leadership when Hurricane Harvey struck in August 2017.

“Mayor Wagner was out front and leading the way. For a man to be able to do that and bring the resources that he did in the short amount of time he did, really impressed me,” Thomas said. “He’s a person who stands by his word, and you just got to be impressed with that.”

But Wheeler believes the city needs to be more fiscally responsible.

“We got to get our spending under control,” Wheeler said. “We’ve raised water rates, trash rates and property taxes, all while giving tax abatements to corporations.

“We have to look out for working-class families. I think putting the tax burden on working families while giving the big businesses a golden parachute is not right,” he said.

“When I make decisions and take votes on council, at the core and heart of every issue, I think, ‘How is this going to effect working families?’” Wheeler said.

Last month, he voted against an ordinance passed in a 5-3 vote in which the city will partner with the city of Grand Prairie to present a holiday attraction that will include drive-through viewing of lights. Wheeler said he didn’t like that the attraction, which would include a holiday village, would be funded by taxpayers who then will be charged for admission and parking.

Thomas, 50 said his No. 1 priority as a council member would be to be readily available to listen the concerns of residents and be their voice.

“I can’t sit back and complain about things if I’m not willing to get up there and do something and be active,” Thomas said. “I just want what’s best for the city of Pasadena, and the best way I can do that is taking an active role on City Council.”

Thomas also wants to ensure police officers and firefighters in Pasadena are supported.

“They’re the folks who put their life on the line on a daily basis, and we need to help them out,” he said.

Wheeler cited accomplishments on council that include construction of a new fire station in the district, planting trees and providing local parks with new equipment.

When he looks back on his time on the council, he says his first two terms were “very tumultuous,” citing the voting lawsuit the city ended up settling for $1 million in 2017.

A federal judge ruled in January of that year that the council system then in use in Pasadena intentionally diluted Latino voting strength. Voters approved that system, which added two at-large council positions and removed two district seats, in a 2013 charter change election initiated by the former Mayor Johnny Isbell. Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ordered the city to revert to a previous system of eight district positions.

“We were able to protect the integrity of our elections and make sure that every part of the city has representation,” said Wheeler, who testified in the lawsuit and had spoken against the voting system that was overturned. “I think that was really huge for our citizens moving forward.”

Both Thomas and Wheeler are military veterans and members of the American Legion Post 521.

The candidates are going door-to-door to listen to the concerns the citizens have, which Wheeler says is the most important part about the election process. He said he doesn’t like when candidates run unopposed.

“You know, I put my life on the line for America and for democracy, and I believe everyone has the right to run,” said Wheeler, who served two tours in Iraq in the Marines. “I think it’s actually healthy when we run elections, because when you run a campaign, it forces the candidate to get out there and really find out what people are feeling at the ground level.

“It forces them to have conversations about taxation, about debt, about the way we’re spending their money and about the programming the city’s doing.”

Thomas, who served in the Army, said he’s gone to neighborhood meetings, put up yard signs and attended council meetings and events throughout the city.

“I’m trying to get more information on how individuals feel about certain things and getting the message out,” he said.

Thomas said that if he’s elected, he would work with council members and the mayor for the betterment of District E and the entire city.

Wheeler said he would continue to put in the work he has been doing.

“I think people know where I stand,” he said. “If they keep up with city politics, they know that I was raised here in Pasadena, I have Pasadena values and I’m not afraid to speak my mind.”

Early voting for the May 4 election begins Monday, April 22. For more information about the election and where to vote, click here.

tyler.johnson@chron.com