This year's race for the Hesperia City Council is not Russ Blewett's first political campaign, not by a long shot.

Blewett, 64, grew up in Baldwin Park, and for eight years in the 1970s, he served on the city council. In 1971, he was the youngest mayor in America.

"I got into it because I have a passion for problem-solving," he said. "The politics of it are a necessary evil and sometimes it gets in the way."

Over the years, he's been involved in dozens of political campaigns in Southern California, including the city council campaigns of former mayor Dennis Nowicki.

Blewett is no stranger to hard, and sometimes-unpleasant, work: "I used to scrape manure out from under chicken pens."

He's been a grocery store employee (and later manager), worked as the business manager for a boy's home, worked in flooring and eventually got into construction. His lone development in the High Desert was an anti-masterpiece of timing: Blewett built a housing tract in Adelanto just in time for the closing of George Air Force Base.

"We'll get through this," he said of the current housing slump in the High Desert. "We always do."

Today, he manages his personal and family investments and serves as a planning commissioner for San Bernardino County.

"I do not and will not be doing land transactions in the area that I govern," Blewett said. He called the practice -- which Councilwoman Rita Vogler has been accused of doing by Blewett's political allies over the years -- "unfair" and "morally not right."

He and those allies have often been on the opposite side of the political fence from Vogler and her allies over the years, and Vogler and her allies have pointed to Blewett's 1993 presidency of the Baldy View chapter of the Building Industry of America as being indicative of where his sympathies lie. (He has not been a member of the BIA in a decade.)

"I'm proud of my association; they're great people," Blewett said. In his years as a builder, "I built a battered women's shelter in Fontana, helped build a homeless shelter in Ontario."

The next set of candidates' financial disclosure forms will be released this week, and there will be builders' names among Blewett's 300 contributors.

"Most of the money I've raised has come from personal friends," he said. "Nobody has donated more money to my campaign than me.

"I'm not in this to make money, I'm in this because Hesperia has a real need for leadership and I think I can provide that."

Thirty years after he last served as an elected official, Blewett says he wants to give back to the community.

"It's now or probably never," he said. "Every politician has a shelf life. I hope I have an eight to 12 year shelf life here. ... It's a good city. It can be a great city."

Realizing his vision for Hesperia will mean burying the hatchet with Vogler and her allies, or at least learning how to work together.

"We need to stop with the Hatfields and the McCoys. We need to see what's best for Hesperia and, if we disagree, we need to be ladies and gentlemen about or disagreements," he said.

And there's a lot of problems that need solving in the city, according to Blewett.

"We know we have a crime problem. That we have the lowest number of police officers per one thousand residents is unacceptable," he said.

The current city council has let the Ranchero Road Underpass construction process drag on too long. Council members and city staff have pointed to bureaucratic red tape as the culprit.

"Why didn't they go and sit in the Caltrans office and get things done? Why didn't they get their legislators to hammer on Caltrans?"

He also has a prescription for the city's ghost town's worth of foreclosed homes.

"Right now, there's 1,000 [foreclosed] homes and there's probably going to be another 1,000. We need to get those cleaned up and in the hands of owners, not renters," he said. "Nothing good is going to happen in this economy, for anyone, until we've solved this foreclosure problem."

Blewett would have the city get into the business of second mortgages for buyers, paying for 15 percent of the cost of a home. The second mortgage wouldn't have to be repaid, if the buyers (all of low-to-moderate income) live in their new house for 11 years. (Buyers would also have to take a class on building and maintaining good credit to qualify for the loans.)

"What have you done? You've created a stable neighborhood," he said.

It would also eliminate vacant houses -- a popular target for burglary and other crime in the city -- and pump cash through the local economy.

"Just think about how nice it would be to have 1,500 [renovation projects' worth of] flooring and window coverings and get some money to local businessmen."

The program could be "up and running" in 60 days, he said.

"You're not going to get more roads, you're not going to get more police without a good economy," Blewett said. "There's a lot of things we can't do on the local level, but this is one of them."

Blewett and Kirk

Blewett's connections to Hesperia tangle him up with another candidate running for one of the two open seats on the Hesperia City Council: Mark Kirk.

Blewett moved to the High Desert in 2002, "but my daughter had been up here for a lot of years."

His daughter, Lori Nielson, served on the Hesperia Unified School District school board from 1991 to 2003 and last year, she spearheaded an ultimately doomed attempt to recall three current board members, including school board president Robert Kirk, the father of Mark. It's led to frayed nerves in both families, but Blewett said the pair have a non-aggression pact and would be able to work together if both were elected.

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