“Anyone who tells you that you can’t be in politics and be a good guy is lying to you.”
That’s the gospel according to Chuck Hammond, the effusive candidate for the El Dorado Hills Community Services District Board of Directors who hopes to come six votes closer than he did in 2010, when he lost by a nose to Director Bill Vandegrift.
Hammond, 69, is a former Fairfield mayor, a fact that comes up often in the relentless, upbeat monologue that emanates from the man, making him the easiest and also most difficult interview ever.
He loves public service. He loves campaigning. He especially loves coaching. But more than all that, “I just love people, period,” he said.
He’s lived in Serrano with his wife Barbara for the past eight years and guess what? He loves both of them too.
At a recent basketball practice Hammond was in typical form. The interview was conducted between constant interruptions, including the introduction of two different moms as “team mothers,” menu planning for an upcoming team party, and endless good-natured ribbing with assistant coaches, parents, the reporter, the photographer, the kids, older kids that he’d roped into assistant coaching roles and any other warm-blooded creature that darkened the gym door.
Hammond sells insurance, all types: homeowner, auto, bonds, workman’s comp, commercial, probate, you name it. He loves it all.
But not like he loves coaching, which he started in 1977. He’s done track and baseball, but keeps coming back to basketball. “It’s my life,” he said.
“These kids come here and they don’t want to leave,” Hammond continued. “My coaches call me and want to come to start practice early. This here, this is my salvation.”
In the current off-season his team is a mix of third through fifth graders, boys and girls. Come winter, the same age group will be broken into multiple teams.
If needed, he’ll coach multiple teams — his biggest challenge being the handful of games each season when they play against each other. He enjoys a posse of assistant coaches that step in on those occasions, allowing him to sit in the stands and cheer for both sides.
Sacramento Monarchs star Rehema Stephens stopped by in 2010 to tell his teams — he had four at the time — about the importance of education and personal responsibility. Hammond coached her brother in Fairfield and, according to Stephens, influenced the entire family. “Coach always told us that if we wanted something we had to be willing to work,” she said. “That sure worked for me.”
He got his start in politics in the early 1990s representing Fairfield on the Solano County Recreation Commission, which had a rubber stamp reputation until Hammond arrived. “They were all voting yes on the first matter to come up and I asked why. No big deal … once they explained it.”
The next day the Daily Republic had a story titled “Hammond asks why?” He decided politics wasn’t so bad.
Before long, members of his church asked him to run for city council. “I wasn’t even registered to vote at the time, but I registered and I ran and we won easily. It was a lot of fun.”
He started his public service career with a large misconception. “I thought you had to be some super smart guy that knows more than everyone else,” he said. “I took office and learned that’s not true. All you have to be is one of them. Shut up and listen. That’s what people want.”
Hammond relies on a native ability to draw people out. “I need people to tell me what’s going on with them and with this community. You know stuff I don’t. You may be smarter than me. You probably are.”
He takes great pride in having never said anything bad about his political opponents in Fairfield. Even in the tight CSD race in 2010, “It never got personal,” he said. “I like these guys. I come to meetings here and meet people. It’s all very interesting to me.”
The highlight of his 2010 campaign was canvassing neighborhoods with the kids on his teams, including many from past teams.
The low point wasn’t losing; it was the kids’ reaction. “The kids took it harder than I did,” he said. “They showed up for practice with their head all down. I just simply asked them if they had fun campaigning with me.”
Heads nodded. “That’s all that matters,” he said. “When you give 100 percent you have fun and you don’t lose.”
His biggest qualification is his experience in Fairfield, which had 98,000 people at the time, more than twice the size of El Dorado Hills, but as a bedroom community, similar in many ways, he said.
He’d like to see board meetings televised. “People don’t get home until we’ve already started,” he said. “You can’t ask them to ignore their family and come here.”
But if meetings were televised, “They can tune it and see what’s going on without sitting through the whole thing.”
He also wants to make the board friendlier. “People should want to come here and communicate with this board, which is something that’s not happening today,” Hammond said. “I could bring that.”
The union endorsed him in 2010. He knows many CSD employees personally, and worries that morale is still low. He also wants to ensure that precious general fund dollars are spent on the right people.
Like the other candidates, Hammond said he thinks there is potential for much more and better volunteer opportunities. “But people have to be asked,” he said.
During his tenure as mayor he instituted “Thursday lunch with the mayor.” For two hours midday he camped at the entrance to City Hall and engaged every person who walked up. Coffee and snacks were available. He asked each how he was doing, what could be improved and, importantly, what they did for a living.
Many who showed up midday were retired. “I asked them if they could give me one day a week,” he said, “and I told them we needed them.”
Many were flattered to be asked, and donated hundreds of hours to the city, some in relatively technical positions.
Again, he played the media card. “They put an Uncle Sam hat on me and put me on the front page of the paper saying ‘The Mayor Wants You.’”
The volunteer program grew from 250 when he arrived to more than 1,000 when he left. “But you have to ask,” he said. “The answer’s no until you ask.”
To his opponents he says: “You will not beat me one-on-one. I will ‘outlove’ you.”
“I know this. I can relate to people,” he said, “That’s what people want in a local elected official, someone they can relate to and someone who does what’s right.”