The Santa Ana City Council Wednesday approved a November ballot measure that for the first time asks voters to place a term limit on the mayor's office.
If passed, the measure would limit current Mayor Miguel Pulido to a total of four more two-year terms. After serving his final term, however, an outgoing mayor could then serve three consecutive four-year terms on the City Council. In effect, the term limit would allow a mayor a maximum of 20 years of council service before a mandatory eight-year hiatus.
The effort to place a cap on Pulido’s service is the culmination of a years-long political struggle among members of the seven-member City Council. Pulido, who has been mayor since 1994, has successfully beaten back at least three previous attempts to place a term limit on the mayor’s seat.
Councilwoman Michele Martinez, who said she has pushed for a mayoral term limit since first elected in 2006, hailed the ballot measure as the most important political victory of her council career so far.
“It’s like I finally had my baby,” Martinez said after the vote.
While it has been the overriding assumption that the nine-term mayor maintains control over the council, Martinez and others have vocally challenged him with increasing frequency.
The sentiment against Pulido has hardened in recent months, with council members openly griping about him making decisions without consulting them.
Sources close to City Hall have said that the issues of contention ranged from staffing decisions to Pulido’s backing of Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez in her failed lawsuit against the city clerk, which would have potentially allowed the termed-out councilwoman a fourth term in office.
Pulido and Alvarez did not attend Wednesday's meeting. Councilman Carlos Bustamante, who has yet to attend a council meeting since his arrest on multiple felony sex crime charges, also did not attend.
Martinez said that Wednesday’s decision by the four-member council majority — Sal Tinajero, David Benavides, Vincent Sarmiento and herself — will weaken Pulido’s influence over the city staff. She has complained that staff defers too often to the mayor’s will but said she is confident that they will get the message.
“There’s been a line drawn in the sandbox,” Martinez said. “There are some pretty smart people on staff.”
It's not clear whether this is the formation of a new council majority, particularly since Tinajero, Benavides and Pulido are running for mayor in November. But as Tinajero pointed out, they were elected together — with the exception of Sarmiento who was appointed in 2007.
“The four of us, when we came to this council in 2006, if you remember, said this was going to be a new day in Santa Ana,” Tinajero said. “Here we are making history.”
Tinajero and Martinez cautioned, however, that the political battle over term limits has just begun. Both council members pointed out that they had come under tremendous pressure in the form of phone calls and contacts from Pulido’s allies to drop support of the term limit.
Martinez said that Pulido’s well-heeled backers will no doubt campaign against the measure with full force. The competitive mayor, she said, is one of the “best chess players in politics,” part of why she admired him as a formidable adversary.
“We’re going to war here, I guarantee it,” Martinez said, adding that she would campaign and raise funds vigorously to make sure the voters approve the measure.
“If I have to work 24 hours a day, I will do it,” she said.