Jim Wood: The Populist Candidate With Some People Problems

Jim Wood: The Populist Candidate With Some People Problems

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood is running for the County Board of Supervisors against Supervisor Bill Horn.

When Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood first filed papers to run for county supervisor, he was relatively unknown outside of his beach city. That anonymity was considered an asset, though: All people needed to know was that he was not Bill Horn.

Horn is a Republican who has served on the Board of Supervisors for two decades. His penchant for polarizing positions and inflammatory rhetoric earned him a slew of enemies over the years, including those willing to put forth hundreds of thousands of dollars to unseat him.

Part of Wood’s strategy is to be the anti-Horn: patient, centrist, populist and pro-smart growth. Perhaps the biggest difference between him and Horn, Wood says, is he will listen to constituents.

“The feedback that I got from a lot of people, not only complaining about him, but asking me to run, was he’s totally out of touch with the voting populace of the 5th District, doesn’t listen to them at all,” Wood said.

But in cultivating a folksy, old-fashioned persona on the campaign trail, the 66-year-old Wood has also showcased his own vulnerabilities. One of his early campaign advisers wondered whether he would have been better-suited for an election half a century ago.

Wood sometimes comments on women’s appearances and often refers to them as “girls.” He parted ways with Chris Crotty, an early campaign manager, in part because he uses a wheelchair. And Wood’s past is dotted with allegations of inappropriate behavior, including at least one formal recommendation that he change his ways.

Crotty said he and other advisers had to frequently admonish Wood for his behavior on the trail, especially about commenting on women’s clothing and appearances.

“We repeatedly reminded him that it was in fact the 21st century,” Crotty said, “and things were different now.”

♦♦♦

For Jennifer Cunningham, the choice is easy: Horn has to go. Cunningham is a member of SEIU Local 221 and said she can vividly recall the moment about a year ago when Horn fully lost her confidence.

“I decided to actually go to the Board of Supervisors [meeting] to talk,” Cunningham said. “While I was talking, Bill Horn spent the entire time talking to other people and didn’t listen to what I was saying … He’s been there so long, he doesn’t even pretend to care what other people say.”

Cunningham’s union is sponsoring the not-so-subtly named political action committee Citizens Against Career Insider Politician Bill Horn for Supervisor 2014, which has already spent some $250,000 to unseat the incumbent.

Ask Cunningham about the candidate her union is boosting, though, and the passion in her voice deflates noticeably. Her praise of Wood is generally framed by her spite of Horn.

“He’s not a career politician, but a leader who has really listened to the residents rather than the special interests that Bill Horn seems to be in the pocket of,” she said.

Wood’s candidacy rests on the dedication and breadth of this anti-Horn fever rather than any pro-Wood euphoria.

Wood has been on the Oceanside City Council since 2002 and mayor since 2004 (in Oceanside, the mayor remains part of the five-member Council).

Early in the campaign for supervisor, Wood’s team worked to partner with several neighborhood groups upset with Horn’s stances – real or perceived – on various development projects.

Their gripes soared to the top of his agenda and included issues like the proposed Gregory Canyon landfill – essentially a dump planned for the backcountry of North County – that many residents worry will harm the environment and water supply, especially if it is placed near the San Luis Rey River.

Born in New Hampshire, Wood’s father was a Navy Corpsman and the family moved to Oceanside in the mid-1950s. He graduated from Mira Costa College and joined the Oceanside Police Department in 1971, where he stayed for just over three decades.  Wood quickly transitioned to politics and was elected to the City Council just as he left the force.

A self-defined moderate Republican, Wood said it is impossible to live in a beach city and not also be an environmentalist because of all the coastal issues involved. He has also, naturally, used his time as mayor to champion public-safety issues like improving emergency response times.

But Wood has also clashed fiercely with colleagues on the council, and as mayor was stripped of some important powers by a slight majority of them, including his post with SANDAG, the regional planning agency.

In person, though, it’s difficult to imagine Wood getting riled up about much at all. His demeanor is cool, measured and even playful.

♦♦♦

At a Carlsbad fundraiser in early May, supporter Lilia Pickens squeezed a tray of fried lumpia in next to a spread of hummus and celery sticks before leading her son to the center of the clubhouse where Wood was shaking hands.

Pickens dug into her purse for a camera. Wood put his right arm around her son. They smiled. Click.

Hold on, Wood said, pulling his black leather wallet from his pocket and flipping it around to show his police badge, “this is my favorite.”

Wood grabbed the young man’s collar with his left hand and posed for a mock perp walk.

“They think it’s funny,” Wood said later. “I do that as a joke.”

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Wood likes to tell jokes and give compliments, a part of his personality he enjoys but realizes can sometimes offend people.

“I’m very outgoing and friendly and I think I got in trouble, and I was told this, I got in trouble because I was raised in the South … where everything is to compliment people,” Wood said. “Yes sir, no ma’am, open the door, whatever.”

Wood said he tries to be careful on the campaign trail about who his audience is and how he speaks to them. For the most part, Wood said his outgoing personality helps him connect with voters.

Catch-22“It’s kind of a Catch-22. That’s why I’m so popular and maybe that’s why once in a while somebody takes me out of place,” Wood said.

How much of a Southern upbringing Wood had is a bit puzzling, though. His bio on the city of Oceanside website does not mention it and says only that he was born in Manchester, N.H., in 1948 and moved with his family to Oceanside in 1955 – essentially in time for elementary school.

Wood said he lived in South Carolina as a child while his father was overseas.

Nonetheless, throughout his time working in Oceanside, Wood’s behavior has landed him in some precarious positions.

Three female police employees who sued the Oceanside Police Department over sexual harassment and workplace misconduct issues told investigators that while Wood was on the force, he was known as “having a reputation for telling sexually inappropriate jokes and making sexually inappropriate comments,” according to a copy of an internal report from 2002 obtained by Voice of San Diego.

One of the women also told investigators that “in or around approximately November, 2000, Wood sent her an e-mail of a ‘white trash’ woman with a t-shirt torn off with her breast exposed.”

“The Department should address with James Wood whatever training and disciplinary issues are appropriate in connection with and based upon” that conduct, according to the investigation, which was commissioned by the city of Oceanside.

Wood dismissed the allegations, saying he believes he was only included to pressure the city to settle the lawsuit and said nothing came of the report’s recommendations.

“It’s nothing,” Wood said recently. “I truly believe they did this for the settlement.”

Rocky Chávez – now a state assemblyman – also said recently that during Wood’s first term on the Oceanside City Council (where Chávez was also a member), a complaint was filed against Wood after he made an inappropriate remark about an outfit one of Chávez’s female aides was wearing.

“It was enough to warrant a meeting with Jim Wood to tell him to stay away … not to be alone with her and not to further any discussions,” Chavez said. He said he believes the city attorney and city manager at the time were present at that meeting.

Wood acknowledges that there was an incident but said his comments were not inappropriate.

He said there was never a sit-down meeting and the city attorney at the time informed him there had been a complaint but did so flippantly, and that was the end of it. (Oceanside’s current city attorney said there is no apparent record of such a complaint.)

Wood said he thought it was “a joke” and believes that Chavez, a longtime political rival, “used her to try and hurt me.”

Even though those allegations occurred more than a decade ago, Crotty and other early campaign advisers worried Wood’s behavior could present a portrait of a candidate out of touch with reality.

“The (former San Diego Mayor Bob) Filner thing was in full force when I was on the campaign, and so some of our admonishments about behavior were in that context,” Crotty said.

“In this atmosphere, in the atmosphere that existed,” he said, “we didn’t want even the appearance of impropriety.”

Wood and Crotty parted ways mostly over money (there was none at the campaign’s outset), but Wood also pointed to Crotty’s use of a wheelchair as part of the reason he wanted a new manager.

“Maybe at home on the phone he can help me, but boots on the ground? Well, he’s in a wheelchair,” Wood said. “I thought he needed to be near the computer, the phone.”

Crotty, who started using a wheelchair after a football injury he suffered at 19, shrugged off the comment. He knows the candidate.

“If this were the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s, someone with a disability like me would probably be put in a home or something like that,” Crotty said. “So that’s probably what he thinks when he makes comments like that.”

Sam Hodgson contributed to this report.

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Ari Bloomekatz

Ari Bloomekatz

Ari Bloomekatz is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego, focusing on county government. You can reach him directly at ari.bloomekatz@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5669.

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29 comments
Chris Wood
Chris Wood subscriber

“…The Populist Candidate With Some People Problems..”  - I thought San Diego just went through that?


It seems to me that San Diego County is the only fiscally sound political entity around here … and would think twice about screwing it up.

Rena Marrocco
Rena Marrocco subscriber

I first met Jim Wood about a year ago and I found his comments to me to be inappropriate.  For the longest time I was very wary of him.  Then about 6 weeks ago, he sat down to talk to me, very seriously, about his bid for County Supervisor.  My opinion of him has completely changed as a result and I am now firmly in his camp.  The fact is that, while Jim Wood may say things that are inappropriate, Bill Horn actually DOES things that are inappropriate- both in his private life and public life as County Supervisor.  When the children in my neighborhood have to take their lives in their hands while walking to school because SANDAG funds are not being utilized to fix and expand roads in county areas where the population density has grown to the point of being dangerous, it puts things into perspective. And I agree that if we weren't talking about life and death issues here, I might be inclined to give the Mayor a rash of crap about these comments. 

I agree with Jennifer Cunningham.  I'm willing to overlook the shortcomings about Mayor Wood in order to get a county supervisor who will listen and be willing to help me when I need it.  And it's unmistakable that Jim Wood is that man.  On down the line, he cares about the same issues as I do.  Whether it's SANDAG, the Environment, water, education, Jim Wood truly cares.  And he's a person who would come through on those issues- there is no doubt in my mind about that. 

Look here's a simple analogy:  Jim Wood is like the world renowned doctor with a lousy bedside manner.  If you want to live, you'll go to him and set aside your personal feelings in exchange for your life.  Voting for Bill Horn is like going to the same tired quack you've always gone to who takes your money, but doesn't do anything to fix what's ailing you. 

Rena Marrocco
Rena Marrocco subscriber

I first met Jim Wood about a year ago and I found his comments to me to be inappropriate.  For the longest time I was very wary of him.  Then about 6 weeks ago, he sat down to talk to me, very seriously, about his bid for County Supervisor.  My opinion of him has completely changed as a result and I am now firmly in his camp.  The fact is that, while Jim Wood may say things that are inappropriate, Bill Horn actually DOES things that are inappropriate- both in his private life and public life as County Supervisor.  When the children in my neighborhood have to take their lives in their hands while walking to school because SANDAG funds are not being utilized to fix and expand roads in county areas where the population density has grown to the point of being dangerous, it puts things into perspective. And I agree that if we weren't talking about life and death issues here, I might be inclined to give the Mayor a rash of crap about these comments. 

I agree with Jennifer Cunningham.  I'm willing to overlook the shortcomings about Mayor Wood in order to get a county supervisor who will listen and be willing to help me when I need it.  And it's unmistakable that Jim Wood is that man.  On down the line, he cares about the same issues as I do.  Whether it's SANDAG, the Environment, water, education, Jim Wood truly cares.  And he's a person who would come through on those issues- there is no doubt in my mind about that. 

Look here's a simple analogy:  Jim Wood is like the world renowned doctor with a lousy bedside manner.  If you want to live, you'll go to him and set aside your personal feelings in exchange for your life.  Voting for Bill Horn is like going to the same tired quack you've always gone to who takes your money, but doesn't do anything to fix what's ailing you. 

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

The sad part of this is the choice before voters. An in-depth view of Horn would no doubt offend me just as much, although perhaps for different reasons.

BVBailey
BVBailey subscribermember

Even if you set aside Wood's apparent arcane ideas about women and people with disabilities (and why should you), the "perp walk" photo should be enough evidence that this man probably doesn't have the good judgement or common sense needed to hold office.

leonjamespage
leonjamespage subscriber

God bless his memory, my old friend Jack Orr would have *loved* this article. The photo of the kid's "arrest" would have brought tears to his eyes.

dansthoughts
dansthoughts subscriber

Jim may not be slick and he's a little old fashioned, but he has a good and big heart and that's the bottom line.  He cares about people and especially those who need extra help.

Vince Vasquez
Vince Vasquez subscribermember

"Better turn on the old Wiggum charm."

CandiceSD
CandiceSD

@andy_keatts I've met/interacted with him before, and the parts about how he talks to young women in professional settings is spot on

James Weber
James Weber subscriber

@Rena Marrocco Did you write any of this or is it 100% ffrom Wood's campaign manager?  Like a world renowned doctor?  Give me a break.

Grammie
Grammie subscribermember

@Rena Marrocco " .....the population density has grown to the point of being dangerous......."


You haven't seen anything yet.

Dan Beeman
Dan Beeman subscriber

@James Weber Filner had a mental condition that he was treating back in Washington and stopped taking meds. here while on campaign trail and never fully got back on. See the too late story in the UT after his firing/quiting/arrest/courtcase .   But if you believe he can get somethings done like Mr. Filner in that I agree. PLEASE NOTE I NEVER LIKED FILNER personally, but political he could & did get things done, too many times arrogantly for my taste. 

Sincerely yours,

Daniel Beeman

aka Walk with Him fcbk,

& walkwithhimFcbk : twitter

Dan Beeman
Dan Beeman subscriber

@freenezwandring @andy_keatts Didn't like too much either, but seems to be his dumb humor. I'll let him be not so "politically correct" if he can represent the people better & keeps his hands off the women who don't want it. but if she is under the desk, and using cigars, then I guess that is on her, but JUST DON"T DO IT IN AN OFFICE I PAID FOR AND ON MY TIME!!

Kathy S
Kathy S subscriber

@Sara_K @Chris Brewster   KFMB aired footage of farmworkers, living on Horn's Valley Center ranch, defecating outside also displayed a washing machine that drained onto the ground and a shack used as a makeshift shower.

"Job Nelson, a spokesman for Horn's campaign, said yesterday that the ranch hands, Delores Soto, 64, and his adult son, Israel, are now living free of charge in an apartment in Escondido that Horn owns." ....J. Harry Jones:UT

amy roth
amy roth subscribermember

@rdotinga @MarioKoran @aribloomekatz  not to mention "dolls" and "broads." 

    Taken all in all -- and not knowing anything about this race except what I've just read here -  it seems Rena Marrocco's last graf sums things up