Andrew Farrell, a business administration senior, finished his coffee and left BlackHorse/Uptown Espresso and Bakery around 9 p.m. with his sights set on his next rendezvous, another coffee date at Starbucks.
Coffee dates allow Farrell to meet with community members and discuss the current state of the city and what he can bring to the table as one of four candidates in the upcoming election for mayor of San Luis Obispo.
“I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee lately,” Farrell said.
While other graduating seniors are saving for trips abroad, sending out résumés or squeezing as many excursions downtown as they can into their last quarters at Cal Poly, Farrell spends most of his time preparing for the November election, he said.
“At first I think people thought my frat brothers put me up to this, or that I lost a bet or something,” Farrell said.
But it wasn’t a bet or some sort of fraternity prank that led 22-year-old Farrell to run for mayor. Stephan Lamb, associate director of Student Life and Leadership, first approached Farrell with the idea when he saw a need to unite the college students with the rest of the community, Lamb said.
Working with the university and specifically the Greek system at Cal Poly, Lamb is able to understand students beyond the negative stereotypes, he said. In the past, events such as the death of Carson Starkey have contributed to giving the university a negative image.
“It’s the quote, unquote Animal House image. It’s the Poly Dolly term which has been around since I’ve been here,” Lamb said. “Students make this town vibrant. Could you imagine SLO without Cal Poly? It would just be another place on the 101. These students are very bright. In fact, I don’t think most of the residents here could get into Cal Poly.”
Farrell said he hopes he can use his experience as president of the Interfraternity Council and his communication skills to assess and meet city needs, despite his lack of experience in local government.
“I love talking to people, it doesn’t matter what it’s about,” Farrell said. “It’s about talking about something real with people. That’s what I love to do.”
Even with his conversational skills, which fellow candidate Paul Brown and Mayor Dave Romero both complimented, Farrell may have a difficult time getting the older community members to see eye-to-eye with Cal Poly students.
The student-community relationship is a long running issue Romero said he has worked on with the help of student representation from Cuesta College, Cal Poly and the city council for more than 20 years.
“It’s a very difficult thing to do with all the new students every year — about 3,000 at Cal Poly,” Romero said. “You have to restart every year. It is an easy thing to say that we need better relationships in the community but a very difficult thing to do because the life of the student is very different from the life of an older community member.”
As one of Farrell’s biggest supporters, Lamb anticipated that Farrell’s opponents would focus on Farrell’s lack of experience as his greatest downfall, he said.
“I’ve seen him evolve as a leader and deal with complex issues and work with community leaders and officials,” Lamb said. “Andy’s a person that unites. He’s not going into this in a confrontational matter.”
Being a resident of San Luis Obispo and often a neighbor to many students, Lamb observes firsthand how students and community need to work for a peaceful coexistence. In order for this to happen, Lamb said, the student population needs to be better represented in government and students and community members need to respect one another.
This is something Farrell’s opponent, Brown, feels should be addressed in the election.
Brown agrees that there is a disconnect between the two entities and that something needs to be done about it. However, he said Farrell will have a hard time gaining the trust and respect of the older members of the community.
“Everyone wants to be valued and respected,” Brown said. “I remember seeing two students ride their bikes through an older community member’s hedges. When they were asked what they were doing they told the person to mind their own business. That’s not respect. The same goes the other way. If it’s four in the afternoon and students are having a barbecue in their backyard, they shouldn’t have the cops called on them. The respect needs to be returned.”
Brown said Farrell’s status as a student may end up hurting his campaign.
“I think Andy has a very special insight into the life of a college student; but, because of the older community in SLO, he will have a hard time getting the two sides to understand each other,” Brown said.
Brown said Farrell would be just as effective at bringing the Cal Poly community and permanent residents of San Luis Obispo together if he was on the city council, a position that has the same voting power as the mayor.
“I’ve had the opportunity to see things from more perspectives,” Brown said. “However, I think there’s a need to have student representation on the council.”
Another opponent, Jan Marx, has an advantage over Farrell if voters side with experience at polls. Like Brown, Marx has more experience in local government than Farrell. She has served on city council for six years and has ran her own business for 17 years, something that makes her more suited for the job, Romero said.
“I’m not nervous,” Farrell said. “At no period have I questioned my experience in the process or felt in over my head.”
Perhaps one of the reasons Farrell remains in good spirits about the time spent on the election is because he feels he has a good chance.
“I don’t think I’ll win, I believe it,” Farrell said. “Your belief in something is much stronger than just thinking something.”
However, Farrell won’t go as far as to say he knows he’ll win.
“If you are a spiritual person and believe in God, Allah, Yaweh, and you believe He has a plan, we never know what’s going to unfold,” Farrell said.
If Farrell is elected, then inherently he’s qualified for the job, Brown said. Mayor Romero feels different about this.
Someone may get elected for office, but that isn’t enough to make them qualified for the job, Romero said. According to the mayor, it takes much more than an ability to gain votes to be the right person for the job.
Whoever takes the office of mayor needs to have an understanding of how the city works and have had time to build relationships with members of the community, Romero said.
“Relationships are a very important part of the job,” Romero said. “I’ve spoken with Andy and he is a very articulate, intelligent young man, but I don’t think he’s experienced enough in local government for the job and that’s the brutal truth.”
Romero shares Brown’s opinion that Farrell would make a much more efficient council member than mayor and suggests to anyone interested in getting involved with local politics that the council is where to start.
While Farrell’s chances of winning remain unclear, something is to be said for the effect his campaign will have on city politics, regardless of the outcome, Brown said.
“I think Andy running is a good thing. Whether or not he wins I think it’ll get more students interested (in city politics). I think there’s a lot of excitement and there should be,” Brown said. “If Andy wins that’s a huge statement. It shows there’s a portion of population that doesn’t feel represented — more importantly, not respected.”
Until the November election Farrell will remain focused on his campaign, a path he said is very different from what he thought he’d be doing with his life.
When Farrell was in high school, he wanted to go into film. A rejection letter from his first choice, the University of Southern California film program, led him to Cal Poly.
“I would say I probably gave up on my dream but film wasn’t the end all be all. I want to do something fulfilling, something that at the end of the day will leave me at peace,” Farrell said. “This is the first time I’ve done something for myself.”
Everything considered, a loss at the polls would be a disappointment to Farrell, he said. However, both Brown and Lamb agree that his campaign will not go unnoticed.
“I think what has impeded past candidates from taking Cal Poly students seriously is their inability to get Cal Poly students to vote,” Lamb said. “If Andy is able to mobilize the Cal Poly constituency the whole history of SLO politics will change. It can make people realize that it is legitimate for Cal Poly to be represented in government.”