Irvine’s elections were some of the tightest city races in Orange County this year, but just over a week after election night, voters are on track to create a Democratic supermajority on their City Council.
Councilman Larry Agran and UC Irvine Professor Kathleen Treseder are poised to win both the open city council seats, while Mayor Farrah Khan will keep the mayor’s office for the next two years, leading a complete shut out of Republican candidates in the city.
If trends hold, Councilman Mike Carroll will be the lone Republican on the council.
Councilman Anthony Kuo is currently losing his reelection bid, falling just nearly 2,000 votes short as of Thursday to return for a second term on the council.
John Park, chair of the city’s finance commission who was also endorsed by the Republican Party, is in fourth place, over 2,000 votes behind Kuo.
Most of the big spending in the campaign ended up going to losing candidates.
Together, Kuo and Park received over $300,000 in supportive advertising from the Lincoln Club, one of Orange County’s largest conservative donation groups, making them the candidates with the most financial backing in the race.
Democrats have edged out Republicans in voter registration over the years, and helped first elect Rep. Katie Porter in 2018, who’s become a national star for the Democratic party since then.
Right now, Democrats make up over 41% of the city’s registered voters, compared to Republicans 24%. No party voters have a larger share of the vote than Republicans, holding just under 30% of the total registered voters.
Mike Moodian, a professor of political science at Chapman University, said the city’s growing Democratic population is a sign of how politically diverse Orange County has become.
“Back in the 90s, this was such a Republican dominated, solid red county, and that was reflected at the local government,” Moodian said in a phone interview. “Now 4-1, I think there are many who would not have predicted that because there’s a strong Republican faction in Irvine, and it’s indicative of a changing Orange County.”
The biggest spending by developers like the Irvine Company and FivePoint came through a chain of political action committees targeting Agran, who had over $100,000 spent against his reelection campaign but still finished in first place at the ballot box.
[Read: Orange County and Los Angeles Democrat Parties Clash in Irvine City Council Race]
However, that same chain of committees spent in favor of Khan, spending $50,000 on advertisements supporting her campaign and another $15,000 on ads supporting Scott Hansen’s city council campaign, who’s currently Khan’s appointee to the city’s transportation commission.
Conservative groups also spent heavily against mayoral candidate Branda Lin, a paralegal and one of the founders of the Irvine Watchdog blog. The conservative Atlas committee spent nearly $30,000 opposing her candidacy, with donations from local hotels and businesses.
Lin ultimately finished in second place – over 5,000 votes ahead of the nearest competition, but over 4,000 votes behind Khan.
Can the Democrats Work Together?
Over the past two years, Agran has regularly been the single dissenting voice on the council against the majority, disagreeing with the council on a variety of issues from the handling of the city’s controversial asphalt plant to the newly approved design plan for the Great Park.
During the campaign, Treseder was a frequent critic of Khan’s, taking aim at her work on the OC Power Authority and claiming she spoke with the FBI about Khan participating in a quid pro quo with the CEO of the agency so he could keep his job, a claim Khan has repeatedly denied.
[Read: Is the FBI Still Investigating in Irvine?]
“They’re members of the same party, but they certainly did not run together as a three-person slate,” Moodian said. “It’s certainly a 4-1 majority but one that certainly has some disagreements among each other.”
Despite once being seen as a rising star within the local Democratic Party, Khan has fallen out of favor with many party leaders over her decisions in office, with senior leaders in the party questioning whether or not they would endorse her in future elections.
[Read: OC Democrats Question Whether Irvine Mayor Leaked Controversial Texts from Congresswoman Katie Porter]
While Khan can’t run again for mayor in 2024 under term limits, she could seek another seat on the city council or run for higher office.
These council members will also be responsible for deciding whether or not to expand the number of seats on the dais to seven, a move many Irvine residents have called for after pointing out they’re the largest city in the county with a five person council.
While the issue was initially discussed in July, the council decided against moving forward at the time because the November election was around the corner.
Read: Irvine Voters Might Get Choice To Expand City Council, Switch to District Elections]
The new council will also be responsible for the early stages of the city’s new plans for the Great Park, which includes approval for a new amphitheater and a series of other major projects the city is set to break ground on in the coming year.
[Read: Irvine Set To Remove Great Park Spending Limits in New Development Deal]
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Hansen had received $40,000 from political action committees. While $40,000 was deposited in the committee which spent exclusively on Hansen’s campaign, only $15,000 was spent according to campaign finance disclosures. We regret the error.
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