When he first ran for office, in 2004, Mike Leonard had been firm: He was going to be a one-term councilman.

He was retiring from the San Bernardino County Fire Department in a few months, and he and his wife would be traveling around the country and camping out. He has done a fair bit of camping as a councilman -- and conducted this interview by cell phone from his campsite at McGee Creek, approximately 12 miles from Mammoth -- but winning a second term will mean putting his full-time retiree ambitions on hold for another four years.

"Mike [Podegracz], our city manager, had been offered a position with Apple Valley. He kind of hinted around that, if I wasn't going to be mayor, he might consider that position," Leonard said.

The economy was also a factor: Leonard, like many Hesperians, just couldn't afford to travel as much as he might like to.

"We looked at it and figured, 'well, with the price of fuel, how much traveling will you actually be able to do?'"

But that worked out OK in the year in which he served as mayor.

"I feel that if you're going to be the mayor, you need to represent the city at all its functions. I'm not going to be one of those absentee mayors we've had in the past."

Beyond this year, there are longer-term projects that a second term would allow him to shepherd through the system.

"There's a lot of things I'd like to see through, like the new fire station, the new police station," Leonard said. "I think it's great that we're going to get the Ranchero Road underpass done, finally."

He's reluctant to take sole credit for many of the things that have happened in the four years while he was on the council.

"I guess my outlook is a little different than people in the past: It takes a combined effort, not just me," Leonard said. "We've paved more roads in the past four years than we have any time in the past. ... I feel I have been pretty involved with what's going on in our city, as far as roads and public safety."

As the lone incumbent in the race -- Councilman Tad Honeycutt is not seeking a third term in office -- Leonard is likely going to be attacked on the city's sales tax base, or the relative lack of it, compared to Victorville and Apple Valley.

"The whole issue has been, number one, the cost of the land. Freeway frontage is a lot more expensive than Bear Valley Road," Leonard said, comparing Hesperia's Target, opening October 12, to the Target that forms the nucleus of the ever-expanding Jess Ranch shopping center in Apple Valley. "The city's got no control over that."

Funds also limited what Hesperia could do in the past, he said.

"Up until about three years ago, the city really didn't have the funds to entice these businesses. That's part of [Apple Valley developing faster]. Our redevelopment agency, they can go and work with those people."

And Hesperia also does things differently than surrounding communities do.

"We do complete [Environmental Impact Reviews on a proposed project's input], and that slows a lot of it down," Leonard said. Apple Valley in particular does not do a complete EIR, but simply stipulates a project's environmental impact in order to speed development along. "I think we're just more cautious, I guess, than the surrounding cities. We want to make sure that when it goes, it won't get wrapped up in court for months."

When he unseated two-term incumbent Dennis Nowicki in 2004, Leonard's campaign fund (which included the remainder of the Hesperia Fire Department's Political Action Committee funding) was overshadowed by Nowicki's record campaign spending. Leonard again expects to spend modestly on his campaign.

"Right now, I've ordered some signs. We're going to do the Hesperia Days out there at the lake like I did four years ago, give out some pins and some magnets. I don't have the big bucks. I'm going to spend what I have and not any more."

This time around, he's got more name recognition, as well as the experience of four years under his belt.

"I probably learn something every day I go in [to city hall]. ... I've learned that you can't outlaw pit bulls," he laughed. "I wanted the American flag to be the only one that could be flown over any other country's [flag]. Boy, did I get some flak over that."

Ultimately, Leonard said, it comes down to how voters feel about Hesperia's direction.

"I guess if the people are happy with what's gone on in our city, I'll get reelected," he said. "I don't know how they can be unhappy. We've paved more roads, we've got more police officers, the fire equipment is all new equipment. ... I think the city is on a very positive growth, even with this economic [downturn].

"We're doing well."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.