New Endorsements in Anaheim

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait and The Orange County Register have endorsed Lucille Kring and John Leos for City Council, setting up a battle for the council majority that pits Kring and Leos against two candidates supported by the business community and former Mayor Curt Pringle.

Kring received Tait’s endorsement after she decided to support the “Let the People Vote” initiative, which would transfer power to approve hotel room tax subsidies from the council to the ballot box.

Kring, a former councilwoman, at first opposed the initiative.

“I changed my mind because I’ve seen polling, and people are really interested in voting. So why not?” Kring said.

Leos received the Register endorsement in Sunday’s newspaper because of his stand against “crony capitalism,” a reference to a controversial $158-million room tax subsidy granted to a hotel development partnership. The Register also noted that Kring and Leos did not receive endorsements from police and fire unions, which could harm their standing in light of public unrest over fatal police shootings.

The Register also opined that Pringle and “other special interests” have too much influence over the city. Although Pringle has been out of office for nearly two years, he still holds considerable influence over matters ranging from taxicab franchises to the tax subsidy. The Register pointed out that Kring would make decisions independent of Pringle, while Leos also criticized the former mayor’s involvement, saying that it leaves Tait “without a gavel.”

The Register’s editorial board underscored their disdain for the tax subsidy by highlighting that endorsing Leos also means backing a candidate supported by labor unions, a traditional ideological rival of the board.

Nine council candidates are vying for two open council seats that will be vacated by termed-out council members Harry Sidhu and Lorri Galloway. Over the past year, Sidhu, Kris Murray and Gail Eastman have formed a council majority that favor business interests, while Tait and Galloway have taken more populist stances.

Jordan Brandman and former Santa Ana police officer Steve Chavez Lodge are the favorites of the establishment, with endorsements from both the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and the Orange County Business Council.

Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR), an influential group financed heavily by Disneyland and considered the city’s political kingmaker, has so far endorsed only Brandman. However, Chavez Lodge was seen at a recent SOAR fundraiser, Kring said.

Tait would achieve at least a semblance of a council majority if both Kring and Leos are elected. But to maintain their majority, all Eastman and Murray need is either Brandman or Lodge to finish in the top two.

There is no doubt that Chavez Lodge and Brandman have the fundraising advantage; the groups and individuals with the deepest pockets in the city are financing their campaigns. But Kring’s name is familiar to voters, and Leos will likely have substantial financing from labor groups.

The city has faced a contentious split over tax subsidies, a string of fatal police shootings and Latino representation on the council.

Tait and Galloway voted against the room tax subsidy granted in January to the developers of two four-star hotels near Anaheim GardenWalk. Supporters said the subsidies would kick-start construction, create thousands of jobs and provide substantial tax revenue 15 years after the hotels are built with much smaller revenue gains in the short term.

Opponents, however, asserted that the subsidy was negotiated without any community benefits, such as guarantees for local prevailing wage jobs, in a city that is already saturated with low-paying hotel jobs and neighborhoods lacking city services. Tait argued that the subsidy created an uneven playing field for other hoteliers and has government choosing winners and losers in the free market, discouraging entrepreneurship.

Kring said she would have negotiated for more city benefits. She called the 80-percent room tax subsidy “very rich.”

The stakes in this election are high for the Latino community and a group of business interests that have supported hotel tax subsidies.

Should Kring and Leos win, the Let the People Vote initiative will likely be passed by Tait’s majority. That majority would also likely support a ballot initiative to replace the city’s at-large election system with council districts, whereby residents would elect council representatives by area.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit demanding that the city move to a council districts system. Instead of complying with the demand, the council majority decided to form a citizens commission to study increasing voter participation and a potentially adopting council districts.

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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