When City Councilman Mike Menesini missed the deadline Friday to file papers that would make him a candidate for District V supervisor, a lot of local political observers were surprised. After all, he pulled papers and had made it clear that he fully intended to seek the seat, which was a new district created last summer by the Board of Supervisors.
So why did he not file? It is not difficult to piece together an answer based on history, and conversations among those familiar with the hard-scrabble political landscape of Contra Costa County.
Menesini, an assistant District Attorney in San Francisco, ran for Contra Costa DA in 2002. During that race, he portrayed himself as a champion of the environment by threatening at one point to put oil refinery managers in prison for pollution violations. This won him no friends in the oil industry, which, as you may imagine, has a few dollars to spend on political outcomes.
For a good synopsis of that story, check out this story of the race in the San Francisco Chronicle, by then-reporter Erin Hallissy, who is now a spokesperson for the Shell Martinez Refinery. It should be noted that the Shell Refinery has generally made it a point to remain neutral during local and regional elections, and has no ties to this story.
But the same does not hold true for the other refineries in Contra Costa - Chevron, Tesoro and Conoco Phillips. All have contributed to Federal Glover, the supervisor who will inherit the new District V seat in November. And a Political Action Committee (PAC), formed by the refineries in 1999 and known as the Committee for Industrial Safety, was reportedly putting a well-funded war chest together to back a Glover campaign.
Then there was the appearance last week of a mysterious website that accused Menesini of “spiking” his mayoral salary in 2002 in order to increase his pension. A subsequent email from one James Dorsey claims that Menesini raised his own salary behind closed doors, without the approval of the council. The website has since been taken down. A partial screen shot of the site is below.
It is a charge that, while likely to resonate with an angry electorate wary of government spending, does not really hold water, because neither the mayor or the council can raise their salaries during their term, and certainly can’t do it outside of a public meeting. But the website and the email were apparently the first shot over Menesini’s bow, a warning of what was to come should he pursue his candidacy.
Glover has also been a long-time supporter of Menesini, endorsing his bid for DA and for other offices. That could also have played into Menesini's decision.
No matter what the reason for his not running, the fact remains that the voters of Martinez have been denied a chance to vote for someone who lives in town, and understands its complicated relationship with the county. Perhaps Glover does as well – that remains to be seen.
But elections are about choices, and this November District V voters will have none.