Election Day drama continues to boil in Costa Mesa, with the city’s balance of power about to be decided by what could be its closest city council election ever.
Amid voters rejecting a charter proposal backed by Mayor Jim Righeimer and challenger Katrina Foley receiving thousands more votes than him, the mayor was left hanging on to his seat by just 21 votes on Election Night.
As more votes were counted in the days since then, his lead widened to more than 100 votes.
But Righeimer's lead then abruptly reversed, boomeranging right back on Tuesday to the same margin he had on Election Night: 21 votes, out of nearly 35,000 counted so far.
This was Righeimer's first re-election since he was elected to the council in 2010. He didn’t return a call seeking comment late Tuesday night.
“Every day, I hold my breath before I check” the election results update, said Foley, noting that Garden Grove is also experiencing an extremely close election.
“It’s insane how close it is. This and the Garden Grove race. Who knew?”
In Garden Grove’s case, Mayor Bruce Broadwater was leading opponent Bao Nguyen by just 26 votes Tuesday night, out of over 27,000 counted so far.
“We are closing the gap!” Nguyen wrote in a tweet on Monday, noting that Broadwater’s lead had fallen from 357 votes on Election Night to 38.
"I am overjoyed by the imbued sense of hope that my dear supporters have generously given me. I am with you in patient prayer," Nguyen tweeted in an earlier note.
When asked how he was doing, Broadwater quipped: “Not well, have you looked at the numbers?”
The vote counting isn’t expected to be finished until later this week. And a recount in Costa Mesa isn’t out of the question.
At stake in Costa Mesa is control over city government, with Righeimer’s seat being the tipping point of the three-member council majority, which has sought to outsource numerous city services in recent years.
The tight results have political observers watching closely in anticipation.
Foley, who supports Righeimer opponent Jay Humphrey, said she was “hanging on with a little bit of hope.”
“I’m anxiously optimistic, but I’m just hoping that we can overcome 21 votes tomorrow,” Foley said Tuesday night.
At a Veterans Day event at the Orange County fairgrounds yesterday, Humphrey was exuberant.
He said he was struck by how close things are, but that the results already proved that he ran a campaign that connected with residents.
Humphrey added that he would anxiously await the certified election results, which are expected to be announced on Friday.
If the current vote gap holds, Foley said, this would be “the closest race in the history of Costa Mesa.”
The current record-holder is the 2004 election, when Eric Bever beat Bruce Garlich by 44 votes.
Foley, who is a Democrat, also said election data suggest that large numbers of Republicans voted for her instead of the Republican mayor.
“If those numbers are correct, I think that sends a huge message to those in power right now that the community is not happy with their leadership,” Foley said.
Her opponents’ election strategy ultimately worked against them, Foley said.
“I ran a positive campaign, I did not run a negative campaign. They campaigned negatively against me heavily. Clearly it backfired – the voters don’t like that in our community,” said Foley.
Costa Mesa has seen intense political turmoil in recent years.
Soon after the current council majority came into power in early 2011, they attracted national headlines for issuing layoff notices to nearly half of the city’s employees.
The city’s general employees union sued, and won court rulings that blocked much of that outsourcing from taking place.
The council majority responded to those limits by asking voters to approve a city charter in 2012, which could have allowed them to outsource a broader set of city services than currently allowed.
That charter proposal was rejected, with voters rejecting a second charter attempt last week.
As of Tuesday evening, 28,000 ballots were still outstanding countywide. It’s unclear how many of those are from Costa Mesa.
But what is clear, is that there’s going to be a lot of eyes on the election results on Friday.
Updated vote tallies are posted every day at 5 p.m. on this webpage.
Thy Vo and Norberto Santana Jr. contributed reporting to this story.