by Laurie Frater
At this morning’s monthly meeting of the Pacifica Democrats, the three Democrats in the race to replace Lee Buffington as San Mateo County Treasurer took part in a candidate’s forum. (The fourth candidate, Republican Joe Galligan, a CPA, was not present.) Perhaps the most striking thing about the event was that so few attended – the candidates and their families outnumbered the members in attendance by 8:7 by my count – which meant that the Q&A session afterwards was considerably more intimate than usual.
The Lehman Brothers fiasco and its direct impact on Pacificans was mentioned often, and concerns about the investment side of the office predominated, but it was also made clear that investment is not the only issue facing that office. Rather than being like fund management and investing for long term gain, it is more akin to managing cash flow – think of an interest-bearing checking account! Income (predominantly property taxes) is typically disbursed within months of receipt, so the investment focus is on preserving capital while making sure that the funds are available to cities, school districts and other agencies within the timeline in which they have budgeted to spend it.
The low turnout was a pity as this is an important race, but each candidate made a strong case for their selection. Why couldn’t two of them have been just slightly awful? Each boasts an impressive list of endorsements, and each voiced a distinctly different perspective of the position:
Sandie Arnott has been with the Treasurer’s office for over 20 years, is the current Deputy, and is clearly itching to take the reins. “I can be effective from day one” she said, adding that if one of the others was elected, she’d be the one training them for the job! She admitted suffering from the “guilt by association” that has surrounded recriminations over the Lehman losses, but made a strong case for being the only candidate who would not be learning the ropes and who could make changes armed with a complete and thorough knowledge of existing processes.
Richard Guilbault, proprietor of Guilbault Asset Management, is a Burlingame-based investment advisor with years of experience of managing local government agency funds. He made the case that he is the only candidate with a long history of working with Wall Street, with an intimate understanding of and experience in the investment business, and that under his stewardship, we’d be best placed to avoid any future events like the Lehman Brothers debacle or the poor investment decisions that caused Orange County to default more than a decade ago. He has long been critical of Lee Buffington’s management of the office (some may remember that Guilbault previously ran for this office in 1994) and is committed to making it a more transparent and financially sound agency.
Dave Mandelkern is a veteran founder of Silicon Valley start-up companies and is no stranger to elected office in San Mateo County. He is currently on the board of trustees of the local community college district and is Vice Chairman of the California State Parks Foundation, among many others, so is fully familiar with funding and cash-flow issues affecting agencies within the county. He is also the only candidate to have been endorsed by the San Mateo County Democratic Party for this race. He made a compelling case for adopting solutions that have been successful in his other ventures – particularly using the best practices from other agencies and external sources to improve both the management and the taxpayer accountability of the office.
It’s a shame that any one of these fine candidates must lose! I’d urge everyone to at least Google each of the candidates before voting, but I came away leaning towards voting for Dave Mandelkern. I felt that he best conveyed his vision of what the office should be, and that he has the track record to turn that vision into reality.
The election will be on the June ballot. If no single candidate garners over 50% of the vote, there will be a runoff between the top two vote-getters from the June race on the ballot in November. Whichever candidate wins, we’ll be writing their name on large checks for at least each of the next four years.