The winner of next Tuesday's special election for a seat on the Ventura County Community College District Board of Trustees will serve only five months, but the campaign has generated enough acrimony to last a full four-year term.
The hotly contested race, which began when the board deadlocked in November over a replacement for a member who resigned, has been characterized by personal attacks, including accusations of misrepresented endorsements, breached promises and racial insensitivity.
The election pits Dorothy Ballesteros, a Ventura County substance-abuse educator, against Gregory Kampf, a Ventura elementary school principal who previously served on the board. The term they are seeking expires in November.
For all their differences, however, the two candidates have much in common. Both say they favor the traditionally liberal causes of labor, minorities, women and the disabled. So little do they differ on many issues, in fact, that the Tri-Counties Central Labor Council, a political action group for 40 unions from Monterey to Los Angeles counties, has endorsed both of them.
Not 'Much Different'
"I don't see in the bottom line where they were that much different," said Barry Hammitt, chairman of the council's Ventura unit.
Still, some groups have been able to choose. The American Federation of Teachers, a union that represents 65% of the district's 1,000 faculty members, and La Raza Faculty Assn., a group representing the district's Latino faculty, have endorsed Kampf for the District 1 seat, which takes in most of Ventura, northern portions of Oxnard and unincorporated areas between the two cities. Tim Hirshberg, the board's newest member, also has endorsed Kampf.
"We just felt that Greg, with his experience and background, would be a stronger trustee," said Ishmael de la Roche, La Raza's president. "He won't have to come in and learn. . . . With Dorothy, you're taking a gamble. We don't know how strong she would be."
Ballesteros, a former Ventura College student, appeared to win support from many students in a debate last week at Ventura College, where she expressed opposition to increased parking fees and advocated strengthening the college's child-care program by expanding it to the community at large.
"I sensed she's more concerned for the students," said Ventura College's student body president, Hien Nguyen, who helped coordinate the debate.
Head Start for November
At stake is an edge in November's election, when the winner of the June 6 special election will be an incumbent. As such, the trustee is expected to enjoy an advantage.
"Who wins in June will probably be reelected in November," explained Ballesteros, 43. "Now's the critical time."
Confirmed Kampf, 37: "This is life or death."
Some voters fault the pair for failing to reach an accord that would allow one of them to drop from the race, which is expected to cost taxpayers $60,000.
"It seems like for all the money were spending for the election we should have some candidates with sharply divergent views on the issues," said Veronica Ramirez, a Ventura College student who last week helped organize a debate between the candidates.
Kampf agrees that the expense is "ridiculous" and Ballesteros calls it "unfortunate," but each believes that the other should have bowed out.
Blames Kampf for Fight
Ballesteros, who was considered for appointment to the board when the trustees deadlocked, said Kampf was asking for trouble by entering the race after she had declared her candidacy last November.
"At the time," she said, "he wasn't interested."
But Kampf maintains that after the teachers came out with their endorsement, Ballesteros broke a pact they had reached when he entered the race in February.
"She told me she wasn't going to be a candidate if she didn't have the support of teachers," he said. "When I got them, I expected her to drop out."
Ballesteros, meanwhile, downplays the episode's importance. "I didn't court endorsements," she said.
Ballesteros instead has underscored her standing as a Ventura College graduate who attended the school as a single mother (her only son is now grown) in her mid 20s. She frequently mentions the fact that her 41-year-old sister, Eva Salinas, who was partially paralyzed by a stroke five years ago, attends Ventura College.
These facts, coupled with her Latino heritage, have made Ballesteros more sensitive than Kampf to issues involving women, minorities and the disabled, she said, pointing out that he is "white, male and a manager."
"I feel I have a unique closeness and intimacy in those areas," said Ballesteros, a Ventura resident. "You have a better understanding once you've been there."
She also points out that the board would be lacking a minority representative if trustee Julian Tarleton Sr., who is black, does not seek office in November, as he has indicated.