Multiple political insiders are saying State Sen. Lou Correa is considering a run for Santa Ana mayor while incumbent Mayor Miguel Pulido is mulling a possible retirement -- two decisions that should they become real would set in motion the most significant changing of the guard in the city's politics since the Clinton years.
According to one source, Correa (D-Santa Ana) might announce his candidacy as early as Friday. And though he declined to comment on the issue when a reporter him reached by phone, the possibility has become an open secret.
So much so that Councilwoman Michele Martinez this week gave a tongue-in-cheek introduction of Correa as the future mayor at a community forum.
“I think it’s exciting,” said Martinez, who in recent years has become a vocal opponent of Pulido's, in an interview with Voice of OC. “[Correa’s] experience would help us tremendously”
If Pulido were to step aside and allow the termed-out senator to compete in a field free of a powerful incumbent, he would be the overwhelming favorite to win. And Pulido and Correa have had discussions regarding the possibility, according to multiple sources. Pulido didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
As of now, the only high-profile Santa Ana politico to announce his candidacy is one-term Councilman Roman Reyna, who political insiders say would be no match for a former supervisor and senator with a sizable campaign war chest.
If Pulido, who pulled his candidate filing papers earlier this month, decides to run for reelection and Correa also files, the mayor would be facing his toughest challenge since first taking office in the mid 1990s. While the mayor has easily won each of his nine re-election bids, his share of the vote has slipped below 50 percent in recent years; and he's never faced a heavyweight candidate like Correa.
Complicating things further are the multiple law enforcement probes into a questionable real estate swap between the mayor and a city contractor. Both the Orange County District Attorney's Office and the state's Fair Political Practices Commission have ongoing investigations, and Pulido has been raising money for a legal defense fund.
Martinez said Pulido is probably looking for an exit “on a good note.” The mayor’s legacy project – a streetcar that would connect the city’s train station with the downtown and civic center, and possibly pave the way for a larger system – has recently gained momentum.
“I think if the mayor challenged Lou, he would have a difficult time,” Martinez said. “The issues that have surfaced this year and the past couple years have really tainted his image in the city.”
Martinez said Correa is aligned with the socially progressive and fiscally conservative principles of the current City Council, and that Correa would be an adept colleague in efforts to keep the city staff accountable to the council.
She also said Correa likely wouldn’t have the same friction with the council over control of the city bureaucracy. In recent years, a council majority, complaining that Pulido ignored them as he steered the city, turned against the mayor.
“I think Lou is smart enough to understand that he has to count to four. He’s only one person,” Martinez said.
However, some have privately grumbled that Correa would use the mayor’s seat as a stepping stone for a congressional run. There's been speculation that Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is angling for a federal appointment should Hillary Clinton be elected president in 2016; and if that were to become the case, the thinking is Correa would run for Sanchez's seat.
Among the largest obstacles to Correa running, according to sources, is the part-time pay of the mayor’s seat, which hovers around $30,000, depending on the benefits taken. One day-job potentially lined up for Correa is a government affairs position with Cal State Fullertion, sources said.
Meanwhile, Reyna said he has no plans to leave the race. Though he acknowledged the difficulty of competing against a state senator.
“A state senator coming in does have a high profile name,” Reyna said.
But Reyna said that it’s far from clear what the candidates field will ultimately look like. Former Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez and current Councilman Vincent Sarmiento are also rumored to be potential candidates.
Candidates have until Aug. 8 to file their election papers, unless the incumbent does not file by that date. If the incumbent doesn't file, the deadline for other candidates will be extended until Aug. 13.
“It’s just kind of hard to say what that landscape looks like until the dust settles,” Reyna said.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the candidate filing deadline rules.