Dr. Jose Moreno, president of Los Amigos of Orange County.

Anyone searching for answers as to why members of the Anaheim City Council majority would seemingly go out of their way to exclude the city’s only Latino-majority district from next year’s general election might not have to look any further than Dr. Jose Moreno.

Moreno, president of the Latino grassroots group Los Amigos of Orange County, is one of the Anaheim business establishment’s (and therefore the current council majority’s) most hated individuals. He is a frequent foe of Disneyland and regularly speaks out against what he and many others see as the marginalization of the city’s Latino population by elected leaders and powerbrokers.

He’s also the candidate who would most likely be elected from the majority Latino district established this year in accordance with the settlement terms of a lawsuit alleging that the city’s at-large electoral system disenfranchised Latinos. The result of the settlement is the debut in 2016 of a district-based system that also expands the current five-member council to six council members and a mayor.

But due to the staggered manner in which council members are elected, not all of the newly formed district seats can go up for election in 2016. This means that the current council must choose which district seats will be up for election in 2016 and which would be pushed off until 2018.

Last month, in a 3-2 vote, the council chose to exclude the only Latino citizen voting age population majority district from next year’s election. The votes in favor of excluding the Latino district came from the council majority — made up of councilwomen Kris Murray and Lucille Kring, and Councilman Jordan Brandman; the dissenting votes were cast by Mayor Tom Tait and Councilman James Vanderbilt.

The council is scheduled to take a second vote at tonight’s regular meeting.

It’s a crucial vote because the mix of districts chosen for the 2016 election could very well determine who controls the council majority for the next three years and beyond.

If the council chooses the Latino majority district for 2016, then Moreno, an ally of Tait’s who ran for a council seat and lost in 2014, would be the clear favorite based on a Voice of OC analysis of that year’s election results in the precincts that make up the new district.

The analysis shows Moreno took first place in what would have been the Latino majority district, with 2,379 votes. The next highest vote getter in the district was former Councilwoman Gail Eastman, with 2,237 votes.

So, if the Latino district were to be included in 2016 and Moreno were to fare as well in those precincts as he did in 2014, then Tait would have a decent chance to flip the majority in his favor.

This brings into clearer focus why perhaps Murray, Kring, and Brandman would be willing to vote against including the district in 2016 and, according to many in the community, violate the spirit of the settlement that created the new council-districts system.

But they are acknowledging no such thing. Instead, they have argued that the newly formed district is already well-represented by Vanderbilt, who lives within its boundaries and is considered half Latino because his mother is Peruvian.

But, according to the Voice of OC analysis, Vanderbilt took fourth place in the district in 2014. So under the council majority’s logic, Vanderbilt is representing a district in which he lost badly.

Critics scoffed at what they described as the council majority’s tortured logic. Latino groups, meanwhile, have condemned the decision as “intentional discrimination” and warned the council majority to reverse its vote during tonight’s council meeting in order to “avoid costly litigation.”

Moreno wouldn’t go so far as to say the decision is being done to specifically keep him off council. Instead, he said Brandman is answering to Disneyland’s interest in disenfranchising the poorest community in the city in order to safeguard city resources for its own bottom line.

“I think its to block interests. And they do what they do. They’re protecting their bottom line and their interests,” Moreno said.

Brandman, Murray and Kring did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Brandman has been receiving the most pressure to change his vote. He’s the only Democrat on the council, and his own party’s local central committee recently voted to condemn the decision as out of step with Democratic principles. They also called on Brandman to flip his vote.

But Brandman’s public statements so far indicate that he’s not changing his vote.

“The political action last night was more about choosing something specific that benefits one individual – Dr. Moreno, not the community,” Brandman said in a statement referencing the central committee vote and issued to the Liberal OC blog.

Brandman is still considered the swing vote on the issue. Despite his contentions otherwise, he has a mixed record of support for district elections and giving Latinos greater representation on the council.

He supported the switch last year, but in 2012, before he was on council, spoke out during public comments at a council meeting and opposed a Tait request to start transitioning to district elections sooner, arguing then that it needed to be studied first.

In an interview, Tait said that the revelation about Moreno’s vote getting in the Latino majority district shows “that the at-large system doesn’t produce the favored candidate.”

“If this had been put on the ballot back in 2012, when I’d asked, then Jose Moreno would have been on the council by now,” Tait said. “But it was delayed.”

When asked whether the council majority vote was intended to delay Moreno’s ascent to council, Tait said “of course I don’t know what their reason is. You’d have to ask the majority who voted to exclude district three what the reason was.

“But I could see how one could conclude that.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

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