Longtime La Mesa Mayor Art Madrid is being challenged by a fellow City Council member for the first time since 2002, thanks to Wednesday’s announcement that teacher and youth theater director Mark Arapostathis is staging a candidacy.

Madrid, first elected mayor in 1990, defeated Councilman Dave Allan by 11 percentage points in 2002 and has turned back outside rivals ever since.

Councilman Mark Arapostathis rode in La Mesa Christmas in the Village Parade in December 2013. Photo by Chris Stone

Arapostathis, a native La Mesan of Greek ancestry, made his announcement at the historic downtown train depot before a small crowd that included three council members backing him: Ruth Sterling, Kristine Alessio and Ernie Ewin, who a day earlier signaled a council vacancy by saying he would not seek a fifth term.

“I care about this city and the people in it,” Arapostathis was quoted as saying in U-T San Diego’s report. “I want to continue my life of service. I appreciate the support and I’ll do the best I can. It’s because I care so much.”

Arapostathis, 47, a former teacher at Rolando Elementary School now in charge of the theater department for La Mesa Arts Academy, was the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District teacher of the year in 2000.

“I want to help the city move into its next century while still maintaining the charm of the small town feel that makes La Mesa special,” Arapostathis said. “I care about the city of La Mesa, the citizens. I want to bring greater unity to the council. And, importantly, support the staff who (are) at the heart of the services provided to the community by the city.”

Madrid, who would be 80 if elected to a seventh term, told the U-T: “I welcome the opportunity for the residents of La Mesa to get a different perspective of an announced candidate.”

With the Ewin seat now available, Bill Baber is considering a run, according to San Diego Rostra.

“Ernie and Councilmember Kristine Alessio asked me to run for an open seat,” Baber told blogger Barry Jantz, a former La Mesa councilman. “I plan to make a decision soon.”

Baber has been on the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District board since 2003. His current term expires in 2016 and would have to give up that seat if he won election to the council.

“This will be a fascinating race to watch,” Baber, a Republican activist, told the U-T. “Mark is the most popular man in La Mesa. Art is our most experienced elected official. Get your popcorn and enjoy the show.”

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