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The mayor of Fountain Valley is jumping into the contentious special election for an open seat on the powerful Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Mayor Michael Vo filed paperwork this week to run for the coastal 2nd District seat formerly held by Michelle Steel. He joins fellow Republicans John Moorlach, Mike Posey and Kevin Muldoon, and Democrat Katrina Foley, with voting set to start next month.

“I believe the county supervisors do have a chance to do more during this Covid pandemic,” Vo said in an interview with Voice of OC announcing his run.

“I think that I – with my life experience – can contribute more to the county responses to help with the get-back-to-work [effort] and fighting this pandemic,” added Vo, who fled Vietnam in 1980 as a refugee before starting a Little Saigon traffic school. He was first elected to the Fountain Valley City Council in 2010 and has served as mayor three times.

“This is my lifelong dream, of how I can give back to America,” Vo told Voice of OC. “I made myself a promise that I would become a public servant, so that I can serve and show my appreciation to the generosity of the American people.”

“I do not owe any establishments any favors,” Vo said, adding he wants to see the county do more to support smaller entrepreneurs during the pandemic.

“I believe that the county should give more active support for small businesses and the local economy,” Vo said.

“I think more tests should be available to more Orange County residents,” he said, adding he wants to see more vaccines available.

His entry into the race comes as the county Republican Party tries to consolidate support around Moorlach, a former county supervisor and state senator who won the party’s endorsement last month.

Democrats, in turn, endorsed Foley, who was re-elected as mayor of Costa Mesa in November.

Republican and Democratic Party leaders have each declared the race a massive priority heading into 2021.

At stake in the election is whether Republicans can maintain their 4-1 supermajority on the board, or if Democrats can craft a more competitive 3-2 dynamic on the dais.

Moorlach says he shares county GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker’s concern that if Republicans don’t consolidate around him, it risks splitting the GOP vote handing the seat to Democrats.

“I think that’s absolutely correct,” Moorlach told Voice of OC on Thursday.

“We’re moving forward, getting everyone lined up, still raising funds,” he added, describing his strengths as being “seasoned, experienced and qualified.”

Vo is criticizing the GOP’s decision in late November to endorse a single candidate, about a month before anyone could officially file to run for the seat.

“I think the endorsement effort should be more out in the open, so that all Republican candidates will have a chance to share their view. Early endorsement does not help the GOP at all,” Vo said.

“In this case, early endorsement cuts out all other people’s view from the [endorsement] process. That should certainly be more in the open.”

Whitaker didn’t return a phone message seeking comment.

Voice of OC reached out Thursday to all of the known candidates for updates.

Posey, a Huntington Beach councilman, told Voice of OC Thursday he’s still in the race and plans to start the paperwork process next week. Early this week, Moorlach became the first candidate to finish the process of getting onto the ballot.

While Moorlach has the GOP endorsement, Posey says he’s endorsed by Republican OC Supervisor Andrew Do.

Foley says she’s excited about the energy behind her campaign.

“I’m overwhelmed by the support of hundreds of volunteers joining us everyday,” she said.

Messages for comment were not returned by Muldoon – who serves on the Newport Beach City Council – nor Janet Rappaport, a Corona del Mar attorney who started the candidacy process.

The election outcome will have a big impact on the board’s debates this year around the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing the maps that decide which voters are in each supervisor’s district. Supervisors have a mid-December deadline to approve the final maps.

The 2nd District vacancy has been expected since Steel succeeded in flipping the 48th Congressional District from Democrat Harley Rouda in the November election.

While Election Day is scheduled for March 9, it will be the final day of about a month of voting.

Under the official schedule, voters can cast mail-in ballots as soon as Feb. 8. Some in-person vote centers are scheduled to open starting Feb. 27, with the rest joining starting March 6.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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