It has not been a good year for Garden Grove Mayor Bruce Broadwater.
The six-term mayor is facing the toughest and closest re-election contest in his 22 years of public office, with Tuesday’s latest count showing his lead has dwindled to just 26 votes.
Broadwater ended election night 357 votes ahead of his opponent, Garden Grove School Board Trustee Bao Nguyen.
But his lead has shrunk each day since, causing the 76-year-old mayor to quip, when asked how he was feeling, “Not well, have you looked at the numbers?”
Broadwater has taken searing criticism throughout the election season for alleged nepotism and favoritism in the hiring of his 37-year-old son Jeremy as a firefighter, despite a string of misdemeanor arrests in his youth and poor performance reports from his superiors.
His son’s hiring has triggered a public outcry and a vote of no confidence for former fire chief Dave Barlag from city firefighters, whose displeasure has long been simmering over the chief’s management style.
Nguyen, a 35-year-old political newcomer, launched his campaign with the support of the fire union, calling on the Mayor to resign and for greater transparency in city government.
He’s criticized the city’s focus on the Harbor Boulevard developments and has proposed more focus on job creation for young professionals and college graduates.
A gubernatorial appointee of the Orange County Fair Board who works for a local home care workers’ union, Nguyen has meanwhile been criticized for his lack of experience and campaign-like speeches at city council meetings that have bristled many residents.
Yet while election night seemed to give a reprieve to the embattled mayor — who called the election “another victory” on his Facebook page — controversy has since resurfaced.
Although the chief resigned in September, causing the union to call a truce, it emerged a week after the election that the city negotiated a settlement with Barlag for him to continue working for the city in a position where he could earn as much as the assistant city manager.
A fire union abated by Barlag’s departure is now up in arms again, with firefighters both outraged and divided over how to address the issue despite earlier attempts to mend their relationship with city management.
And the criticism continued at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
“Explain how you gave Barlag a sweet deal to hush him up and keep his mouth shut regarding nepotism,” resident Josh McIntosh said. “These are the strings you want to pull, and these are the strings we want to cut…I want a new mayor.”
Broadwater has meanwhile denied any intervention occurred in his son’s hiring and defended his tenure, pointing to the addition of multiple hotels and the construction of a Waterpark Hotel on Harbor Boulevard as breathing life back into a poor city struggling for tax revenue.
He says the issue is a politically motivated attack by a fire union that has long sought more control of the department.
With 28,744 outstanding ballots left to count countywide, residents await Friday at 5 p.m. when the final votes are tallied.
If the mayor has been looking somber about town, Nguyen has been upbeat, posting daily vote count updates on social media.
“I am overjoyed by the imbued sense of hope that my dear supporters have generously given me. I am with you in patient prayer,” he wrote on his Facebook page.