Manny Escamilla continued Friday night to narrow his gap behind frontrunner Phil Bacerra for a Santa Ana City Council seat, as one of the final batches of results were released.
Yet there were open questions about whether there are too few remaining votes for Escamilla to have a chance at surpassing Bacerra.
Escamilla went from 6 percentage points behind Bacerra on election night, to 2 points on Thursday to 1.1 points Friday evening.
The latest results, released at 5 p.m. Friday, set the stage for ballot reviewing to continue next Tuesday and Wednesday. As of Friday night, Bacerra and Escamilla were separated by 157 votes.
After the 5 p.m. Friday results, the county Registrar of Voters’ website was updated to show just 42 ballots remained from not just Santa Ana, but also San Clemente and Stanton, which also held elections this week. That would leave far fewer remaining ballots than the gap between Escamilla and Bacerra.
But officials expected additional mail-ballots could be received Friday night before an 8 p.m. deadline and said 206 ballots have unresolved signature issues.
Neal Kelley, the county registrar of voters, said an unknown number of ballots could be added in next week’s updates, and that he won’t have an answer about how many remain until early next week.
“We must complete detailed sweeps, ballots could be received tonight, we need to conduct our audits, etc. What I can tell you is as of now the majority of all ballots have been counted,” Kelley said via email a few minutes before the 5 p.m. update.
While saying he would not officially concede until the final vote count next week, Escamilla went on Facebook to tell his supporters it was over.
Bacerra, the frontrunner, was cautiously optimistic.
“I am excited about the current results, but I await the official confirmation from the Registrar of Voters,” Bacerra said in a Friday night text message to Voice of OC.
The 5 p.m. Friday update reflected an extra 549 votes in the council race, on top of the 13,335 reported in Thursday’s update. The next update is scheduled for Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Bacerra, a real estate consultant and former planning commissioner, had about $87,000 spent in his favor as Election Day, according to state-mandated disclosures. Major financial support included $6,000 from a committee set up to support Mayor Miguel Pulido and $5,000 each from the county firefighters’ union, local developer Mike Harrah, and trash hauling contractor CR&R.
Bacerra also was supported by $89,000 from the police union last year when he ran for the same seat, though this time the union backed a different candidate, Jennifer Oliva, with $25,000.
Escamilla, who has worked as a city staff member at the main library, city manager’s office, and planning department, spent about $17,000 from the committee he set up and relied largely on door-to-door outreach to voters. His committee was funded largely by a $6,500 loan from himself, and most of his remaining contributions are $200 or less from city residents, activists and business people. He also received $249 each from downtown developers Irving and Ryan Chase; and from the union representing Santa Ana’s general employees, SEIU Local 721.
Escamilla was opposed by a committee funded by the lobbyist for the proposed apartment development at 2525 N. Main Street, which gave $3,000 to a committee formed to oppose Escamilla. They were the only known opposition mailers in the election.
In the Santa Ana Unified School District board race, middle school teacher Carolyn Torres continued to hold a wide lead over former City Councilman David Benavides – 47 percent to 31 percent.
Benavides conceded the race in a Facebook post earlier this week.
The new council member will potentially impact key decisions on local issues like the ongoing homelessness crisis, complaints about slow 9-1-1 response times, and how to spend an extra $60 million a year from a new sales tax increase that has bolstered city coffers.
The winner will also affect the balance of power on the City Council, which has been confronted with sharply rising city police and pension costs and an upcoming decision on approving a controversial project at 2525 N. Main St.
The new school board member will join four other board members grappling with issues like class sizes, how to address students exposed to violence at home, and whether to welcome or limit the growth of charter schools in the city.
A host of developers and labor and trade unions, including the city’s police union, comprised the City Council race’s key campaign spenders. The final set of campaign finance disclosures, however, aren’t due until the end of January.
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Other Elections Coming Up
The Santa Ana political community has also been gearing up for next year’s race, which will see most of the council seats up for election – including the first open mayor’s race in 25 years.
Pulido was first elected in 1994 and has won every election since then, but is now termed out of office. In addition to the mayor’s spot, three council seats are up for election, currently held by Vicente Sarmiento, Jose Solorio, and Juan Villegas.
The mayor’s seat and two of the council seats are open races. Sarmiento is termed out and Solorio is running for mayor instead of seeking re-election to his council seat. The mayor’s race has also drawn Iglesias and former Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez as candidates.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.