Carolyn Raft said her decision to run for Montclair mayor was thrust on her by circumstance.
“I wasn’t planning on it,” she said.
But the extended illness of former Mayor Paul Eaton, which resulted in his resignation earlier this year and his death shortly thereafter incubated her candidacy.
“I am running because Paul asked me to when he became ill and before he passed way,” Raft said. “I had been mayor pro tem,” she said, meaning she is the city council’s designated vice mayor. “The reason he [Eaton] gave for asking me to run was my way of looking at things. He was a calm person. He always kept the council on an even keel. He thought I could do the same. I believe I can do that. His whole family is supporting me.
Over the last four years, on those occasions when Paul was not there, I have been running the meetings. I was the acting mayor for two years.”
Following Eaton’s resignation, the city council appointed Eaton’s wife, Ginger, to fill out the remainder of her husband’s term. Ginger Eaton has now endorsed Raft in her run for mayor.
In November, Raft, who has been on the council since 1992, will face another member of the council in the mayoral contest, John Dutrey, as well as Sousan Elias and Kelly Thomas Smith.
“We have made improvements in a lot of areas,” Raft said of the city. “Crime is down. As a council, we have improved the local housing situation. John and I have pretty much done the same things. In a little over the last five years, almost every single lot has been built or is now being built on. On the south side we are seeing a lot of infill development. We lost Cardenas [a local grocery store] but now we are getting them to come back. We have had a lot of great development up at the north end, the revitalization of the Montclair Plaza, the Paseos, and we are getting some industrial around Arrow Highway. We have the Arrow Station [rail and bus depot] in north Montclair.”
She said the city will soon see a “European Style” development that will entail, she said, “businesses and shops on the ground floor and one, two or maybe three stories of residential housing above. Near that we have the Gold Line coming in, which I am told will run all the way into downtown Los Angeles and will cost passengers just $1.75 for a one-way ticket. We will be seeing that completed and hopefully will see the Gold Line extended to the east, to Ontario Airport and beyond.”
With nearly all of the developable property in Montclair having been built upon, Raft said the next logical place for the council to turn its attention is to enhancing community safety. “As I have been campaigning, I have heard people everywhere remark on speeding, and how cars are running red lights and stop signs,” she said. “That may be the biggest headache for Montclair. We have to figure out something and I don’t mind asking other cities how they have handled these problems. I’m not above asking for help. One of the things we can do is get the public involved and get the police involved and put our heads together and try to come up with a solution. We used to have motorcycle cops, but they retired or were promoted and never replaced. Our police chief was a motorcycle cop. I’d be in favor of bringing motorcycle patrols back. Officers are able to see things on their bikes that they are not in a position to see when they are in their patrol cars.”
When she was queried as to how the city should generate more revenue to provide basic services and other enhancements, Raft said, “A lot of people are talking about the marijuana issue and allowing dispensaries into the city. That is one possible source of revenue.” She sounded less than enthusiastic about that option, however.
“We can’t just up and tax people, because they have to approve it,” she said. “I think the best way is for us to try and keep businesses coming in. We do need more revenue, because our payments [for pensions] to the California Public Employees Retirement System keep going up and up. They expect us to keep up with those payments. That is bankrupting some cities. The only solution I see is we need to bring in more sales tax producing businesses.”
Raft said, “We have improved much of what is going on in the city, simply by passing the right ordinances.”
With regard to her current electoral effort and the opportunity it presents for her to vault from the city council, of which she has been a member since 1992, to the mayoralty, she acknowledged that she is now working hard to make that a reality. “I am campaigning all over town,” she said. “It really is exhausting, but I keep going. I have a lot of people who know me and know my family. I have a lot of supporters. I am grateful for that.”
She said she has no particular rivalry with Dutrey, who is perceived by many as her primary opposition in the campaign. Both came onto the city council at the same time in 1992 and have been reelected together ever since. There has been substantial harmony between them in their voting patterns over the years, and both were last elected to the council in 2016, so that both are now midterm in their council positions. Thus, if one wins in November, the other will yet be a member of the council for two more years. She insisted she would be able to be gracious in defeat and magnanimous in victory, and continue to work side-by-side with Dutrey, no matter what the voters decide. In sizing up how she is distinguished from Dutrey, she repeated the observation that Eaton made of her. “I am much more calm,” she said. “I think you can use the word ‘stable.’ I have been on the council 26 years. When I first got on the council, several of the other members would be argumentative toward me. I would stand my ground and express myself, but I can’t think of even once where I raised my voice or got into something that got out of hand. Flare-ups and blow-ups don’t help anybody. You have to work with all members of the council, even if on everything you don’t see eye-to-eye, if you want to get anything accomplished.”
The closest she came to making a criticism of Dutrey came when she admitted some irritation toward him over the way he or someone with his campaign was placing Dutrey’s signs at the locations where she has posted her own, as if he is intent on upstaging her. “You can tell everyone that I’m not putting my signs everywhere someone else is putting their signs,” she said. “He is putting his signs, or paying someone to put his signs, in the places where my campaign went out and got permission to place them. I think he should be scouting out locations on his own,” she said, implying that Dutrey allowing her to blaze that trail is an indication she has a greater degree of support across the community than he has.
Raft was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee and attended high school in Georgia. She and her husband had three children and moved to Montclair in 1984. They owned and operated a auto diagnostics center, which their son has been operating since their retirement.