Now that’s a strange pair of bedfellows.
Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, the fiscal conservative who was the City Council’s lone vote against its most recent labor contract with city employees, has just endorsed former union leader John Leos for one of the open council seats in the November election.
While such an endorsement might come as a surprise, it shows the practical realities facing Tait as he plans to go forward without the termed-out Lorri Galloway, who in recent times has been his only ally on a deeply split council.
It also shows that giving city residents control over generous hotel tax subsidies and evening the city’s political representation rank high on both Tait’s and Leos’ list of priorities.
“He [Leos] agrees that the people should decide,” Tait said, referring to two ballot proposals that were voted down by the council majority.
Said Leos, who is a former member of the Orange County Employees Association board: “I think Tom has seen that my heart is in the community. It’s not necessarily about politics right now, it’s about getting our city moving forward and what’s best for the city.”
With Councilman Harry Sidhu also termed out after eight years of service, there are two council seats up for grabs this year. So far, two candidates with the backing of the city’s political establishment — Steve Chavez-Lodge and Jordan Brandman — are vying for the seats against seven other candidates, including Leos.
Anaheim’s council elections have traditionally been big-money races. A handful of interests — the Disneyland Resort and businesses with ties to the city’s resort district, among others — usually contribute the most campaign cash to candidates who are clearly committed to promoting the resort.
And the big money usually carries the election. In 2010, Tait and council members Kris Murray and Gail Eastman were elected after a well-financed campaign machine catapulted them to victory.
But early this year, to the surprise of many City Hall watchers, Tait voted against a $158-million room tax subsidy for the developer of two four-star hotels near the GardenWalk center. The vote marked the beginning of an ongoing council split, with Tait and Galloway lining up against Murray, Eastman and Sidhu.
Since the subsidy vote, the city’s political environment has only become more fractured and contentious. The subsidy caused a split in Orange County’s labor coalition, with building-trade unions axing themselves and supporting the subsidy.
Things heated up further when a group of Latino activists and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the city, demanding a change from at-large election of the City Council to a system requiring council members to live in the districts they represent.
Then last month, Anaheim’s political scene exploded when about 1,000 demonstrators, angry about back-to-back police shootings that killed two young Latino men, rioted outside City Hall after being denied access to a council meeting because the council chambers were filled to capacity.
These events caused a change in rhetoric coming from the city’s political establishment. Some members of the council majority say they now endorse moving to council districts, which would have residents vote only for candidates in their areas. Currently, four of the five council members live in the city’s wealthy eastern quarter known as Anaheim Hills.
However, the council majority voted down Tait’s proposal to have a six-district system on the November ballot, angering many council district supporters.
Instead, the majority voted for a Disney-endorsed blueprint that would have a citizens’ review committee study the issue, saying that it is necessary to gain a thorough understanding of the city’s options before making a decision to transform the system.