With his own victory, and those by other police union-backed candidates in Santa Ana City Council races, Mayor Miguel Pulido appears to have regained much of the power he lost in the 2012 “Santa Ana Spring” election.
Pulido, who benefited from major spending by the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, dominated his top challenger – Valley High School teacher and community activist Ben Vazquez – 53 percent to 33 percent, based on results posted by the county Registrar of Voters.
Jose Solorio and Juan Villegas, two other candidates backed by the police union, cruised to easy victories. Solorio won 43 percent of the vote in a seven-candidate field; and Villegas, ousted incumbent Councilman Roman Reyna 56 percent to 44 percent.
The only incumbent not backed by the police union to keep his seat was Councilman Vicente Sarmiento. He beat his police union-supported challenger, Jessica Cha, by 55 to 45 percent.
The end result was a major gain in influence for Pulido and the police union, which will now have their allies occupying three of seven seats on the council. A fourth council member, Michele Martinez, has joined the police union in openly criticizing City Manager David Cavazos and advocated devoting city surpluses to police.
The election pitted competing visions for how to invest city funding in Santa Ana, between hiring more police officers and boosting youth services.
Pulido and the police union-backed candidates emphasized using city funds to hire additional police officers and give raises to those already on the force. The mayor also suggesting dipping into the city’s rainy-day reserves to hire more officers.
The police union pointed to a 46-percent increase in Santa Ana’s violent crime rate since 2013 and a reduction in officers from about 400 in past years to 308 officers earlier this year. The union dominated money race by spending over $200,000 supporting their candidates and attacking Sarmiento and Reyna.
On the other side, Vazquez and his allies emphasized more investment in youth services. Those candidates — including Ana Urzua Alcaraz, Patrick Yrarrazaval-Correa and David De Leon — argued that expanding these services would go a long ways towards reducing crime and increasing students’ educational success.
Reyna, meanwhile, was the sole council vote this summer against devoting the city’s entire budget surplus to police. He and Sarmiento faced an intense flow of attack mailers funded by the police union, saying they’ve failed to invest in police amid rising crime.
Big Night for Republicans at School Board
At the Santa Ana Unified School District, where three factions were competing for seats, Republican incumbent Cecilia “Ceci” Iglesias not only won re-election, but apparently also picked up a friendly seat on the board.
Her fellow Republican candidate, Angie Cano, narrowly won a seat on the board as of the end of Election Night. Cano was ahead of teachers union-backed Mark McLoughlin by 0.4 percent.
The school board race was considered a key race for Republicans countywide, with the GOP emphasizing expanding choice for Latino parents to send their children to charter schools.
The final top three vote-getters win seats on the five-member school board.
Only one of the teachers union-backed candidates, Rigo Rodriguez, was in the top three as of the end of Election Night.
That could set up a dynamic school board, with current board members John Palacio and Valerie Amezcua on one end, Iglesias and Cano on another side, and teachers union-backed Rodriguez as a swing vote on critical decisions.
Strong Showing for Community College Board Majority
In the race for control of the district that runs Santa Ana College, the current board majority – which is often votes in lock-step on key decisions – is in a strong position at the end of Election Night.
Incumbents Nelinda Yanez and Arianna Barrios show strong leads against their opponents for seats at Rancho Santiago Community College District, which oversees Santa Ana College, Santiago Canyon College and the Orange Education Center.
Board majority-backed candidate Zeke Hernandez is also leading handily against his top opponent, Matthew Schauer.
One of the board majority’s seats, that of incumbent Claudia Alvarez, was still too close to call at the end of Election Night. She was leading challenger Steven Nguyen, by 41.3 to 39.1 percent, with an unknown number of mail-in and provisional ballots left to be counted.
In the Rancho Santiago election, the board majority was seeking to hold off losing seats to candidates backed by the district’s faculty union.
The faculty union was backing challengers Matthew Schauer, Thomas Gordon, Cecilia “Ceci” Aguinaga, and Rudy Diaz, none of whom came close to winning seats.
The board majority, meanwhile, gained a huge advantage from a flood of mailers funded by a whopping $95,000 from the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters union. One of the leading members of the board majority, John Hanna, is the top attorney for the carpenters’ union, which also has a $1.2 million contract with with the district to train apprentice carpenters.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda[email protected].