On Nov. 6, Indio voters will cast their ballots in the city’s first district-based elections, after the City Council moved away from “at large” or city-wide elections under the threat of a lawsuit to force compliance with the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.
Of the five districts newly established in Indio, District 2 is the home of the race that’s generating the most early interest. The final candidate pool will not be established until August, but so far, two candidates have announced an intention to run: the incumbent and current mayor, Mike Wilson, who has been on the council since 1995; and political newcomer and lifetime Indio resident Waymond Fermon.
In many respects, the two candidates are polar opposites. Wilson, a self-described conservative Republican, is now serving his fourth stint as Indio’s mayor. Fermon has worked for 17 years as a correctional officer, and has already garnered support from the Coachella Valley’s Democrats and liberal left.
Last year, Wilson drew the ire of many when, in the wake of the violent white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., he tweeted: “It doesn’t matter what POTUS says, liberals and the media will always attack him. It shows the real problem in U.S. is the libs and media!” In a recent phone interview with the Independent, Wilson explained the episode.
“What happened, which I explained right after, was that my intent was to say that (it was) the mainstream media and the Washington, D.C., Democrats, but in shrinking it down (to 140 characters), I didn’t really think about the response to it.”
The response turned out to be angry, swift and strong. Because of that, we asked Fermon—who currently lives in District 4, not Wilson’s District 2—if he chose to move his family to District 2 to set up a head-to-head confrontation with Wilson.
“I’m very self-motivated,” Fermon said. “I don’t need any specific target to have a goal. My concern isn’t (Mike Wilson) right now.”
Wilson and others have called attention to the carpetbagger appearance of Fermon’s decision to move his residence to, and run for office for, the new District 2.
“I’m in the planning phase of that (family move), and that will be over with real soon,” Fermon said. “Actually, I’m past the planning phase, and we’re in the transition phase right now. I know it’s public information at the end of the day, but I’m not willing to throw my living quarters (details) out there freely, but we’ll be moved soon.”
Assuming that the candidacy qualifications are met, we asked each candidate about their priorities and objectives.
“First and foremost, always, is public safety,” Wilson said. “As you know, I’m a retired fireman, and having a relationship with law enforcement as well, we need to grow our police department. Based on population and the ratio of one officer per every thousand residents, we are still quite a bit below where we should be.”
Next, he said: “Repairing our streets and roads and overpasses, etc., and building new ones is a priority for me. I sit on the Riverside County Transportation Commission and the CVAG Transportation Committee, so it’s one of my specialties. Over my years, I’ve had some great accomplishments in bringing federal, state and regional money into Indio to do these things. But (right now), we’re $36 million behind in street repairs, and we need about $6 million a year just to maintain what we have. (Moving forward, both Senate Bill) 1, that brought us more street and road money, and Measure X (the Indio sales tax measure that passed in 2016), should bring us $7 to $8 million this next year to put into street and road projects. This is long overdue for Indio, so one of my priorities is going to be catching up on that work.”
Wilson’s third priority: “Continuing our economic development and economic recovery in the city by maintaining forward progress in making the city attractive for new businesses, stores and new projects. We’ve had some success. We have new hotels being built. We’ve got a new theater project coming in. There’s a lot of housing stuff going on that’s positive. But on the top of the list is (the future of) the Indio Fashion Mall, which is on Monroe Street and Highway 111. That project has just been bought by Alex Haagen of the Empire Polo Grounds, and we’re working with him to completely reposition that whole mall property (so it) will be a benefit to the city for years to come.”
Fermon responded by saying that he’s “canvassing the residents” and “meeting and greeting” to learn about their concerns. We asked Fermon what he has been hearing from constituents thus far.
“One is public safety,” he said. “I just think that, at the end of the day, we all want to be safe wherever we go. Next, we need smart economic development, not only that will bring retail and different businesses, but we also need jobs.
“The homeless situation (is another issue),” Fermon said. “I am meeting with people who are concerned about the homeless and the growing problem that we have, but I’m also meeting with homeless people who want to be informed about the resources that are available to them currently, and want those resources to be made more easily available. I’m speaking with businesses about the homeless problem, because sometimes it can create a nuisance for businesses. So the communication seems to have broken down there, and I’m talking to all sides.”
Fermon said he also wants to focus on Indio youth. “In the district that I’m running in, I want to bring more activities for the youth in that area—recreational activities like sports, and other things they can do during their leisure time in that area. As we have it now, there’s really nothing for our youth to do in that area.”
We asked both candidates what message they most wanted to convey to Indio’s voters.
“I think it’s important that experience matters,” Wilson said. “We have a council right now that’s working extremely well together. We have a vision that we share, and we work together to put that vision together. We’re very respectful of each other. Looking at the last eight years, and where Indio had been and where it is today, I think that the leadership in Indio is strong. I think that this council has earned the trust of the voters in Indio.”
Fermon responded to the question somewhat philosophically.
“What I want to leave you with is what I tell the students I work with. I have mantras, or quotes, that I internalize for each week, and this week’s is: ‘The secret to living is giving.’ It’s been interpreted many times by many people, but I first heard it from my psychology teacher at Indio High School.”