“Grass roots” trounces “special interests” in Mission Viejo election

Cathy Schlicht won even though her opponent took in thousands from special interests

Last week was the deadline for all city council candidates in the Nov 2008 General Election to turn in their 460 Campaign Disclosure Statements to their City Clerks.

As a former campaign manager and current campaign advisor we look at several aspects of campaigns to see what worked and what didn’t. Part of that analysis entails, among many facets, following the money trail to see what we can learn.

Cathy Schlicht, a pure “grass roots” candidate in Mission Viejo, did not receive any special interest or city vendor funding during or after the 2008 campaign. Although running a low budget campaign she soundly defeated Mission Viejo Planning Commissioner Rich Atkinson who, in addition to utilizing a professional campaign manager, received sizable campaign contributions from “special interests” and was strongly endorsed by the mayor and another council member. It is worth analyzing some of the data found in their year end financial reports.

According to Cathy Schlicht’s year ending 2008 #460 report, Mission Viejo’s newest council member reports spending $15,863 in winning a council seat in her first attempt for city council. Commissioner Rich Atkinson, who finished fourth, reports expenditures of $44,302 in his losing bid.

Among his leading monetary donors were contributions of  $2,500 from Medix Ambulance, $1,500 from Waste Management, $1,500 from the Assoc of O.C. Deputy Sheriffs PAC, $1,000 from the Apartment Assoc of OC PAC, $500 from a construction developer, $1,000 from the BIA, $1,000 from OC Auto Dealers Assoc. and, from Art P’s favorite trash haulers, Ware Disposal kicked in $1,500, Judith Ware $1,000 and from their sister facility, who hauls our C&D waste, Madison Material contributed $1,500.
In his losing campaign, beyond his multiple mailers Rich Atkinson sent out around a dozen “slate” mailers while Cathy sent our ZERO “slates.” Even his high profile local and County endorsements could not carry him to the victory stand. He also utilized professional robo calls which Cathy did not. Yet in spite of being outspent by almost 3:1 she trounced Rich getting 13,725 votes (20.2%) while he finished fourth getting 9,904 votes (or 14.6%) of the votes cast.
Do the math. Rich spent around $4.50 per vote and lost while Cathy spent less than $1.50 per vote in defeating this anointed candidate.
As we often hear and it’s worth repeating, “the most important gift you can give someone is your time.” Many Mission Viejo residents and friends of Cathy Schlicht worked overtime in support of her shocking victory.

Sadly there are current members of our council who, a few short years ago, enjoyed the same community support in their initial winning campaigns. As several Mission Viejo citizens gather in 2009 discussing city policy decisions we are already planning ahead to 2010 where another change or two will occur in the makeup on our city council. Who knows. One revealing statement, learned from a former city manager, is to make sure you can count to three. Nov 2010 is not that far off.

About Larry Gilbert