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Katrina Foley — who became Costa Mesa’s first directly elected mayor in 2018 — just flipped a Republican seat on the Orange County’s Board of Supervisors and won a place at the dais, the first woman Democrat ever to do so. 

On Tuesday night, Foley led early election returns with 44%. Her next closest opponent, former county Supervisor John Moorlach, who won 31% of those returns conceded the same night.

That means the Mayor’s chair on Costa Mesa’s City Council is up for grabs.

The big question now is whether elected officials on the city council or residents will get to decide.

Foley said in a phone interview that under government code the council has two months to appoint a new mayor or a special election will be held.

 “It’ll be up to the council whether to do that or not,” Foley said.

Mayor Pro Tem Andrea Marr said the council will discuss a formal appointment in an open and transparent process. She added if they can’t come to a consensus in the 60 day time frame it will be up to residents to decide in a special election. 

Some residents are upset they may not get to pick their next mayor and are calling for a special election to be held nonetheless.

“We are not going to have a special election in Costa Mesa. We are going to have an appointed mayor which we haven’t had since 2018 when we became districts and we decided that we want every position in city council to be an elected position,” said Hengameh Abraham, a former city council candidate and Republican who lost in the 2020 election.

Abraham said that they’re going to organize an event this Saturday to petition the city to hold a special election. However she told the Voice of OC on Thursday that they will not be able to hold that event due to the coronavirus.

“We just want a fair and honest election and we’re not given that,” Abraham, who owns a wellness center in the city, told the Voice of OC in a phone interview.

“Most people think that we are automatically going to have an election, and they’re going to be in for a very, very rude awakening when that’s not going to happen.”

Marr said that initial estimates for a special election are around $400,000-$500,000.

“I would like to avoid that personally because I don’t think with all the cost that we’ve incurred during the pandemic and then the challenges financially that we face in the city that it would be prudent to advocate to spend $400,000 or more,” Marr said.

Residents may have an opportunity to apply for the Mayor’s seat from which the council will appoint one candidate to replace Foley.

This conundrum of whether to appoint people to fill vacancies on a city council or to hold a special election has played out in Orange County time and time again.

This week, in nearby Orange, Councilman Mike Alvarez resigned after a months-long legal battle where a County Judge ruled that he was ineligible to run again in the first place. His seat is now vacant and will need to be filled.

When the Former Mayor of Irvine Don Wagner resigned after winning a special election to become a County Supervisor in 2019, then Mayor Pro Tem Christina Shea took his place. A debate ensued on who should fill her vacancy.

[Read: Irvine To Grapple With City Council Vacancy After Christina Shea Becomes Mayor]

In the end the Irvine Council appointed Mike Carrol.

The issue has come up in recent years in Orange, Fullerton and Santa Ana as well.

[Read: Santa Ana Confronts City Leadership Vacuum ]

Foley won reelection last year. The new mayor will finish out her term that ends in 2022.

City Attorney Kimberly Barlow said at a council meeting earlier this month that if a special election is held it will take place in November of this year.

Marr said when the council meets next Tuesday they will discuss their options and residents will have an opportunity to weigh in.

“It’s important that we give everyone the opportunity for that conversation,” she said.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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