Saturday, June 22, 2024

Mayoral Candidate Casey Tanaka Says Experience is Key

Casey Tanaka has lived in Coronado since 1983. In addition to his role as Coronado City Councilmember, he is also a history teacher at Coronado High School. Megan Kitt / The Coronado Times

When Casey Tanaka was a kid, he would read the newspaper to watch votes play out at the Coronado City Council. He found it fascinating.

By the time he graduated from Coronado High School, he knew two things: He wanted to be a history teacher in Coronado, and that he wanted to run for office. He began teaching at CHS in 1999, and shortly after, announced his first run for city council at 24 years old. He lost that race, but two years later, he ran again and won.

That was in 2002. He remained on city council until 2008, when he was elected mayor. He served two terms, then took a break until 2020, when he was voted back onto council. Now, he’s running for mayor again.

“I think we need to have someone who’s experienced and knows how to lead the entire council,” Tanaka said. “It’s really important to me to help all five of us find our voice.”

So far, three city council members have announced runs for mayor, leaving their seats on council open. (In addition to Tanaka, council members John Duncan and Mike Donovan are also running.) There’s going to be a lot of turnover, Tanaka said, and he wants to guide the city through its transition period.

“One of the reasons I’ve been a successful mayor in the past is that I’m very fair,” he said. “I completely commit myself to making sure that the council’s majority – even if I’m not in it – accomplishes their goal, their policy objective. And that’s not to say that others won’t do that. But I’ve already demonstrated that that’s how I handle the job.”

Tanaka said he learned the need for humility the last time he served as mayor: The job isn’t about talking for the sake of it, and he said he’s established trust with the community in his decades serving in public office.

“I think there’s a certain comfort to the community that they’ve seen me do this before,” Tanaka said.

He said he is not coming to the race with a list of platforms and changes he wants to make on city council, but instead, that he wants to guide the city through its large projects – the Winn Room update, the Cays Park masterplan, the city’s two aging fire stations. Money is, of course, a finite resource, and his approach is to ensure that the city is planning for upcoming projects effectively. During recent deliberations about improvements to Orange Ave., Tanaka asked that the city look at the totality of its budget when making funding decisions for individual projects.

Context is key, Tanaka said. By sitting through countless hours of government meetings since 2002, he has not only learned, but lived, the history of some of Coronado’s most pressing issues. New ideas and new people are important, he said, but a mayor with experience can ground discussions in context and potential ramifications.

“When you first start on council, you’re not as good as you think you are,” he said. “You can only understand the issues by doing the work.”

During his first campaign – the one that he lost – he was asked at a candidate’s forum about a proposed tunnel project, which would have started just after crossing the San Diego – Coronado Bay Bridge, run beneath the city, and ascended at Naval Air Station North Island. Tanaka, who was unfamiliar with the proposal, thought the tunnel would have traversed the San Diego Bay.

His answer, unsurprisingly, did not satisfy, but it came with a lesson.

“You have to be willing to admit when you don’t know,” Tanaka said. “Today, I would have told that person, ‘I’m going to have to research that and get back to you.’ But the beauty of serving on the council for 18 years is by now, most of the things people could ask me a question about, I’ve lived through.”

Tanaka said serving in city government requires public trust.

“One of the advantages of the current council is that we’re all easily accessible,” he said. “I like to make the point that if you email any of us, we all will respond. One of my goals is to continue that culture here in our city.”

And Tanaka said he doesn’t take that trust lightly. Not everyone has time to spend hours at City Hall watching council deliberations, but everyone who lives in Coronado is impacted by the decisions made there.

“What happens in local government, at the city or school board level, often impacts you more than something that happens in Sacramento,” Tanaka said. “I’m very convinced that the public has a great amount of comfort with how I represent them and that I can be trusted to do the work.”

Megan Kitt
Megan Kitt
Megan has worked as a reporter for more than 10 years, and her work in both print and digital journalism has been published in more than 25 publications worldwide. She is also an award-winning photographer. She holds BA degrees in journalism, English literature and creative writing and an MA degree in creative writing and literature. She believes a quality news publication's purpose is to strengthen a community through informative and connective reporting.Megan is also a mother of three and a Navy spouse. After living around the world both as a journalist and as a military spouse, she immediately fell in love with San Diego and Coronado for her family's long-term home.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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