Starting this week, Phil Ortiz, 34, will be sitting in the El Cajon City Council seat once previously occupied by Ben Kalasho.
Kalasho was a loud presence both in and out of city council, drawing attention from disrespectful bluster against his fellow councilmen to several lawsuits made against him by participants of the pageant he and his wife organize.
He is not an East County name, or even a local San Diego name. Kalasho’s reputation as a brassy and controversial figure in politics has been covered by the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.
Arguably, it is not this kind of circumstance in which East County hoped to find itself in a national spotlight.
Phil Ortiz, we hope you do better.
You and Kalasho seem to have a lot in common on the surface. You are both young, passionate, outspoken community members. For all the reasons that Kalasho appeared to be a good fit for city council, you do too.
But we hope you can do better than your predecessor. We hope that you can learn from his mistakes and put this community before your political career or personal image.
It is comforting to know that you already have a background in civil service and advocacy.
You were a founding member of FratMANers (Fraternity Men Against Negative Environments and Rape Situations) when you were at San Diego State University – and as a current Aztec, I know what an unpopular stance that is in many circles on campus. Given the nature of your predecessor’s questionable actions, your background as an advocate for women is important, especially in as much as it serves as an example for the men who will follow in your footsteps and model their behavior after yours.
You are a businessman in the community. Your work requires that you meet people in these neighborhoods. You help them fit their houses to meet California energy-efficiency laws. We hope this means you understand on a very personal and individual level what your district looks like from the shoes of the people who live in it. We hope you use that knowledge wisely and well.
It is with a heavy heart that we acknowledge your tragic experience at Santana High School in 2001 when a fellow student brought a gun to school and killed two of your classmates, wounding 13 other students in the process.
Although we do not wish that on any child – in this community or any other – we trust that your first-hand experience with violence in schools will give you an important empathy and understanding of the needs facing the youth in our community, especially in terms of violence, bullying and mental health.
You were outspoken about Kalasho’s poor behavior very early on. But it is not enough that he is gone and you have his seat now.
In fact, even more now we expect you to be a whistle-blower for this community. We expect you to keep a sharp lookout for corruption, unfair dealings or a lack of community-first focus from you seat at the council.
Life in the public eye can be unforgiving – just ask Kalasho.
Do not let it discourage you. The only power we ask that you let it have over you is to push you to be above reproach.
El Cajon needs a break from the drama of reality TV politics, so we hope you are willing to take this position as seriously as we are giving it.
We ask that you be an advocate for our community as you have been for women. We ask that you lead with confidence and a service-centered mindset. We ask that you talk with your constituants and look for the needs in this community.
Kalasho stated in his resignation letter that he could no longer work with the council because he was always the odd-vote-out.
While we would never ask you to vote against your conscience, and there is nothing wrong in itself with being the maverick, we do ask that you make a concerted effort to work with the rest of the council. We elected them. We chose them to make decisions regarding this community. They are safeguarding our welfare as much as you are and we expect you all to work together in our best interests.
The next two years are promising ones. Good luck.