Beating back what had been dubbed the “Santa Ana Spring,” Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido cruised to his 10th term, trouncing Councilman David Benavides by a nearly 2-1 margin in Tuesday’s election.
Pulido won despite an uprising among fellow council members and a challenger in Benavides, who with support from developers nearly matched the mayor in fundraising.
Pulido finished with 47.4 percent of the vote and Benavides 26.4 percent. George Collins finished third with 12.8 percent. The other candidates — Lupe Moreno, Roy Alvarado and Miguel Briseno — all ended up with 5 percent or less of the vote.
In the end, Pulido’s name recognition and continued support from key players such as Democratic Party Chairman Frank Barbaro and outgoing Assemblyman Jose Solorio proved too much for Benavides to overcome.
“I’m ready to move forward and take on the issues that are before us,” Pulido said Tuesday night at the local Democratic Party’s gathering at Original Mike’s in Santa Ana.
Benavides was defiant in defeat, saying wins by Vincent Sarmiento and Roman Reyna in their City Council races gives the Santa Ana Spring coalition a super majority that overrides Pulido’s landslide victory.
“No longer does Miguel have a grip on City Hall,” Benavides said. “His time of dictating the direction of our city is over.”
He went on to say that “the next two years will be unpleasant for Mr. Pulido.”
Pulido brushed off Benavides’ comments, calling the Santa Ana Spring a fallacy and saying that he brought Benavides onto the council. “I’m just going to lead,” Pulido said. “I would rather make peace and work together.”
Although the result Tuesday was the same as it’s been in every election since Pulido first won in 1994, there was a definite sense in recent weeks that the mayor felt the need to push harder this time.
Contrary to what he’s done in some of his past elections, Pulido showed up to all of the major candidate forums, made an effort to walk precincts in the waning days of the campaign and even held a news conference last week — the first in recent memory — to announce a proposal of an ordinance that would discourage visits from members of the Vietnamese Communist regime.
Barbaro, who stuck with his endorsement of Pulido even though the Democratic party endorsed Benavides, said that Pulido will emerge from this election more accessible to the community than he has been in recent years.
“I think you will see more of Miguel out in the hustings, more ribbon cuttings, more baptisms,” Barbaro said. “Up until now he has been busy fixing the city.”
For his part, Pulido said he does not plan to change his overall approach. “I’m not going to spend energy raising my profile,” he said. “It will be issues, issues, issues.”
Benavides’ candidacy was the result of a growing discontent among other council members with what they described as Pulido’s constant behind-the-scenes maneuvering. And in fits and starts in recent years, they have begun to publicly challenge him.
It is clear that Benavides was hurt by his late entrance into the race; he didn’t announce his candidacy until the week before the filing deadline in August. But even taking that into account, Tuesday’s results show that the insurrection against Pulido that has consumed Santa Ana’s political class did not resonate with the average voter.
Nonetheless, Benavides returns to the City Council more emboldened than he was before he squared off with Pulido. He said he is proud of the work volunteers did on his behalf and on Measure GG, the term limits measure that passed overwhelmingly.
“One of the big wins is that never again in Santa Ana will someone have control for more than eight years,” Benavides said.
Tuesday’s results coupled with the departure of Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez mean that Pulido has no strong allies left on the council.
The new council majority now includes Benavides, Reyna, Councilwoman Michelle Martinez, Councilman Vincent Sarmiento and Councilman Sal Tinajero. Reyna Tuesday night said he expects the majority to hold.
“I expect the Santa Ana Spring to stick together and stay in the majority,” Reyna said.