Attorney and Democrat Ashleigh Aitken Wednesday announced she is a candidate to become the next mayor of Anaheim.
“I think people want a native daughter, they want a hometown girl with a commitment to public service,” Aitken said in an interview with Voice of OC.
She said if elected she plans to leave her law practice and focus full-time on the city. “For me to leave the legal profession and go into public service, I think people know that a decision like that is only made by somebody who is in it for the right reasons.”
With incumbent Mayor Tom Tait termed out in 2018, four candidates so far have filed paperwork to run: Aitken; former Anaheim councilman Harry Sidhu; John Machiaverna, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Anaheim; and former district 4 council candidate Robert Williams.
Aitken made her announcement in a Facebook live event Wednesday morning.
Aitken, 41, is a former federal prosecutor and current member of the Orange County Fair Board. She said she plans to step down from her job as an attorney at her family’s law firm, Aitken, Aitken and Cohn, to campaign full-time starting next summer. She has raised the most money of all the candidates so far, with $183,527 in her campaign coffers as of Aug. 8.
Aitken moved to Anaheim, Orange County’s largest city, as a child and currently lives in District 6.
She’s a relative newcomer to Anaheim politics and has never held elected office, but points to her experience as chair of the Anaheim Community Services Board, which makes recommendations about the city’s social service needs. She was appointed to the board by former Republican Mayor Curt Pringle.
Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, is a major donor and chairman of the board of Voice of OC.
If elected mayor, Aitken said homelessness will be her top priority.
“The mayor of Anaheim is going to have to be a leader and hold the county to task,” Aitken said.
She also wants to “look at the relationship that city hall plays with the citizens of Anaheim” and reduce the “acrimony at city hall.”
“I think a return to civility is going to be something that’s going to be extremely important,” Aitken said.
Echoing a campaign promise made by several members of the current city council, Aitken said she also will focus on making the Anaheim Resort – a tourism district consisting of Disneyland, the Anaheim Convention Center and nearby hotels – more accountable to residents.
“We love to have our Resort District, we want it to grow and thrive, but we want to make sure that…[when] there’s a project being developed, that it’s being developed in a way that benefits all the citizens of Anaheim,” Aitken said.
“I can look at contracts, I can negotiate deals, and I can make sure that promises that are made are promises that are kept and not forgotten,” Aitken added.
She pointed to recent tax subsidies granted by a previous city council to three luxury hotel developments.
One of the three hotel projects includes a deal with UNITE-HERE Local 11, a hotel and resort workers union, to use union labor.
“They provide good union jobs for a lot of our local residents. And when those things are built, there’s a benefit to the city,” Aitken said of the subsidy.
Unlike the current mayor, who has called past subsidy deals “taxpayer giveaways,” Aitken said she doesn’t oppose subsidies and believes they are important incentives for businesses.
“I think if we can entice them to grow and build, that's a positive thing,” Aitken said. “But you have to really, under a microscope, look at those deals, and make sure they're equitable and fair for everyone in the city.”
She said “mistakes were made” when the original hotel subsidy deals were structured, and that any future deals would ensure “local hire, high-paying union jobs, [and] prevailing wages.
Aitken said homelessness is a “regional problem, not an Anaheim only problem.”
Citing her experience performing pro bono legal work for homeless veterans, Aitken said she would approach the issue with compassion with the goal of helping people “get into a long-term, stable situation.”
The issue has been at the forefront of Anaheim politics in recent weeks, with councilman Jose Moreno introducing a proposal to place portable restrooms for homeless people living on the Santa Ana Riverbed near Angel Stadium (the council took no action) and a separate proposal by councilwoman Kris Murray to declare a “state of emergency” and convene a task force to clear the riverbed. Murray’s proposal is slated for the Sept. 12 city council meeting.
In a campaign newsletter, Murray summarized the proposal as “those who want help will get it; those who refuse help must leave; our laws will be enforced; the health and safety of all our residents will be protected.”
Aitken declined to comment on Murray’s proposal, citing a lack of details about it.
A group of advocates for homeless people has also been pushing for the current City Council to repeal an anti-camping ordinance that allows the city to ticket homeless individuals who camp in public spaces, and confiscate their unattended belongings.
Asked for her views on the ordinance, Aitken referred to her earlier statement that lawmakers need to view homelessness as a regional problem, and avoid “piecemeal” solutions.
“I think the camping ordinance is something that was a reaction to the homeless problem,” Aitken said of the law. “Repealing it, if it was part of a larger plan, that might work. But repealing it and not having a holistic plan…doesn’t make any sense.”
She said the city ultimately must find a solution that also addresses the impacts on residents and homeowners.
Public Safety Board
Since a spate of police-involved shootings in 2012 killed two young Latino men and sparked large protests, police reform activists have argued for the formation of a police review commission that would have subpoena power and much broader discretion to review use of force incidents and recommend discipline.
Asked whether the city needs a police review commission to address public confidence in the police department, Aitken did not give a direct answer.
“There are some citizen oversight boards that have worked really well, and some that have been unsuccessful,” Aitken said. “As we develop something, we have to make sure that we do something that works for everybody.”
She said any solution should both ensure the public a “communication channel” with the Police Department and that the privacy of individual officers’ employment history is protected.
Aitken also said the mayor needs to be “a good partner” for law enforcement to “ensure they have the resources they need” to ensure a quick response to police calls.
“I think residents’ concern is response times,” Aitken said.
Contact Thy Vo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.