Whether they know it or want to admit it, the three declared Santa Clarita City Council candidates – and anyone else who later decides to enter the race – are heading for an election campaign unlike any before.
A great deal can change between now and the July filing date. Others might join Mayor Bob Kellar, Councilmember TimBen Boydston and retired aerospace engineer Alan Ferdman in the race for two council seats. All candidates must figure out if they want to change anything, because the election is in November instead of April.
Although Election Day is 257 days away, four questions already have arisen.
Will Cameron Smyth run?
It seems everyone has heard the rumors that Smyth, a former councilmember and state assemblyman, will run again for a council seat. Smyth admitted that he has been “encouraged by folks across the city,” including Kellar. And Smyth is seriously considering it.
“I’ll make a decision sooner rather than later,” Smyth said. Although he has time to formally enter the race, “I owe it to those encouraging me to run to make a decision well before the filing date.”
If Smyth runs, would name recognition help or hurt?
The name “Smyth” is well known in the valley. Before being elected to the state legislature, Smyth was elected to the council in 2000 and re-elected in 2004. He twice served as mayor, in 2003 and 2005.
He followed in the footsteps of his father, Hamilton “Clyde” Smyth (1931-2012). The elder Smyth served the William S. Hart Union High School District as its superintendent from 1975-92 and later served as city councilmember from 1994-98, which included being mayor in 1997.
Saugus realtor Steve Petzold sees Smyth as a serious threat to his preferred candidates, Boydston and Ferdman.
“People who meet Cameron feel like they know Cameron,” Petzold said. “I think he could (win), I think he could (finish second), which would put him on the council. … Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, people like Cameron.”
But a cautionary local tale is Duane Harte, who ran for council in 2014 on the strength of his name, but lost.
Another factor to consider: Smyth has not been part of the city’s political scene since leaving his post to serve in the California State Assembly in 2006. He left office in 2012 to enter the private sector, where he is now vice president of state affairs for Molina Healthcare.
“He’s been out of Santa Clarita politics for at least 10 years. Most people don’t know him,” Ferdman said. “Am I terrified if Cameron gets in? No. Would it change how we campaign? Maybe.”
Allan Cameron, a longtime resident who has run numerous campaigns for seats on water agencies, city councils, school boards and state offices, remembers Jan Heidt, who served several terms, stepped down and tried to get re-elected some years later. She lost.
“Everybody needs to be respectful of the competition and run a thorough campaign,” Cameron said.
What about candidates running together?
If Smyth enters the race, one could say it would be wise for Boydston and Ferdman to team up and campaign as one slate; the same goes for Smyth and Kellar.
But the odds of it happening are slim. Kellar and Smyth said they’ve never done it before and won’t start now. Cameron says that a successful slate requires the candidates to do “a lot more of what it takes to be a successful candidate,” meaning whatever they have to do to get themselves elected – including, but not limited to, exploiting social media, pavement pounding, phone calling and soliciting money – they have to do also for the other candidate.
“Slates don’t get unilaterally elected,” Cameron said. “People vote a la carte.”
The election will be in November. What effect will this have?
According to Cameron, this will be the first time in 28 years the council will not have its own April election, but instead will be on the ballot with everything else, which this year includes ballot propositions, a county Board of Supervisor, state Senate and Assembly, the U.S. Senate and House elections, and the presidency.
Presidential elections always drive more people to the polls; all candidates must take that into account. “Any candidate running would be insane not to,” Cameron said.
“It changes the way you campaign,” Smyth said. “How do you reach that many more people? How do you get your message out when other candidates are trying to get their messages out?”
Cameron has one answer: Polling.
“If I was Cameron Smyth … I’d get funds together and get an opinion poll so as to not be in the dark,” Cameron said.
This, however, is very expensive. Cameron, who has commissioned polls before, says one poll costs $50,000, and three will set you back $200,000. No one has ever raised that kind of money for a city council seat, he said.
So, that means candidates will have to go back to good, old-fashioned campaigning: participate in candidate forums, meet with as many people as possible, exploit social media, which Cameron calls “the newly emerged King Kong of politics.”
“They’ll be bigger numbers, but the basics are still there,” Kellar said.