Look across Orange County this election season and Anaheim stands out as a city facing crucial public policy issues that could define the city in the coming years.
The Latino community is fighting for better representation on the City Council, police shootings have driven a wedge between the department and the city's poorer communities, and there remains much division over how City Hall should hand out subsidies to developers.
Despite races for two open seats on the City Council that could affect how the city acts on these issues, no candidate debates and just one candidate forum have been scheduled before the November election.
John Leos, one of nine candidates running for two open council seats, said that when he ran in 2010 there were at least four candidates forums. This year, he said, he’s only been invited to one forum scheduled for Sept. 26 by the West Anaheim Neighborhood District Development Council (WAND).
And while one forum is better than none, WAND leaders don’t want their forum to be publicized or even recorded. An organizer with the group, who did not want to be named, said their forum room holds only 100 people and the group fears a repeat of the riots that erupted outside City Hall in July when protesters of police shootings were not allowed in the City Council chambers.
The organizer pleaded with a Voice of OC reporter not to publicize the forum. “We don’t want any rabble rousing,” the organizer said. “All we want is a small town forum, and that’s it.”
Paul Beckman, chairman of the Anaheim East District Neighborhood Council, said one reason his group is not holding a debate this year is because he is dealing with health issues. But the other reason, he said, is his frustration with city politics, stemming in part from an apathetic electorate and the strong influence the city's cloistered business community wields over City Hall.
“To be perfectly blunt, the people in the money stream direct where the city is going,” Beckman said.
The Anaheim Chamber of Commerce — a powerful influence in the city’s political sphere along with a Disney-backed group called Support Our Anaheim Resort — held a candidates forum in 2010, but so far none this year has been scheduled, according to chamber officials.
Why there is no chamber debate this year isn’t clear. Chamber President and CEO Todd Ament did not return an email seeking comment and could not be reached by phone Thursday.
The Orange County Congregation Community Organization, a faith-based activists group, might hold a forum, but with the election only six weeks away, the event is still in the early planning stages, according to organization officials.