Gabriel San Roman
Slingshot: Your Special Voting Guide For Anaheim's Elections
The general election may be a little more than a month away, but voters in Orange County will be able to mail off their ballots as soon as October 5. That's next week, folks! While the presidential race tops the ticket, coronavirus desmadre in OC goes to show that local elections sure as hell matter. With that in mind, I'm going to mail off my ballot as soon as possible so I can come back, burn some sage and give myself a limpia!
Get behind me, Satan!
There's plenty of intriguing races happening all around OC but for the sake of this Slingshot, I'll be focusing this special voter guide on my hometown: Anaheim. I last spilled ink on its electoral fortunes two years ago when Disney-backed candidates returned to dominance in an era of single-member districts. Any hopes of flipping that political reality are slim; a Disney-backed candidate needs to win only one race to preserve its majority.
And the Mouse House wisely pumped $1.5 million into the Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR) PAC before the Rona hit.
There's three seats up for grabs, a controversial Angel Stadium deal in the works and a pandemic upending Anaheim's resort economy. This special voter guide breaks down all the races district-by-district. Don't worry, Mouse Muckraker will return next week with more dishes on Disney.
In the meantime, where else ya gonna go for election analysis? Matty Cunningham's rebranded "Anaheim Independent" blog that's anything but?
District 1: Beach Boulevard Blight
Four years ago, Denise Barnes edged former dirty cop Steve Chavez Lodge by a few hundred votes to become West Anaheim's first voice on Anaheim city council in decades. She also quietly made history as the first Mexican American woman elected to council. Barnes joined the "Tait slate" of former mayor Tom Tait and has been a steady voice against corporate tax breaks ever since while keeping a watchful eye on the Angel Stadium deal.
Barnes is running for reelection, only this time as a newly minted Democrat. Both her principal opponents are Republicans in a mostly Latino, registered Democrat district. She won't be able to fully capitalize on her party affiliation, though; despite having an opportunity to vie for a four-seat Democratic majority on council, the Democratic Party of Orange County deadlocked on giving her its endorsement.
Parks Commissioner Ryan Balius started his campaign last summer and raised a good deal of money (mostly from outside of Anaheim) to give his candidacy a solid foundation. A volunteer with the West Anaheim Neighborhood Development Council (WAND), Balius is poised to be competitive. His sign presence is definitely dominating the district. He's independent of Disney funding, so far. Former councilman James Vanderbilt recently contributed to Balius' campaign as he did to Barnes, his former Tait slate colleague.
The surprise in the race comes courtesy Jose Diaz, a Cuban American Republican. A late entry, Diaz is getting a quick and interesting boost showing Resort Elite interest in his candidacy. Planning Commission Chair Michelle Liberman is a financial supporter as is former councilwoman Kris Murray. Diaz is also taking contributions from Anaheim firefighters and the California Real Estate political action committee. Can Disney be far behind? Diaz is Spanish surnamed and is putting out bilingual flyers emphasizing homelessness because, allegedly, "Kick the Bums Out" only applies to public parks in District 1 and not to the losers camping inside city hall.
Will Barnes' incumbency, record and party switch be enough?
She lost valuable time deciding whether or not to seek reelection. Balius is running a serious campaign and Diaz is getting a late boost. It just might cost Barnes her seat. Either that or the two Republicans will divide enough of each other's share of conservative votes for her to emerge victorious.
District 4: The Mouse's House
Councilwoman Lucille Kring is FINALLY termed out of office. Let's "pop the cork" and celebrate, shall we?
There's no question that Kring's seat will turn from red to blue. The only matter to settle in this election is which Democrat will claim it and whether or not they will bow before the Mouse House. Disney's spent $156,000 in this race so far in favor of Avelino Valencia through SOAR PAC. So there's that.
Valencia's a staffer for Assemblyman Tom Daly, who previously served as Anaheim mayor in the 90s. He's also managed to build the broadest coalition of support in recent memory. In 2018, the Disney living wage ballot campaign bitterly pitted building trades against the Coalition of Resort Labor Unions. But both sides are largely backing Valencia's candidacy, including Disney unions like Workers United Local 50 and Unite Here Local 11.
When the coalition hosted a car caravan protest around the Disneyland Resort earlier this year calling for greater safety measures before reopening amid a pandemic, Valencia got behind the wheel. Still, he counts among his endorsements the Anaheim Police Association. Gerry Serrano's Santa Ana Police Officers Association, the bane of SanTana progressives, is also chipping in on the cause. And it seems like it won't be before candidate forums that we'll learn about his takes on the most controversial issues of the day--even as Daly's been publicly critical of the Angel Stadium deal already.
Activist Jeanine Robbins suffers from no such ambiguity. Her long list of public hell-raising includes fighting for humane policy solutions to homelessness, battling short-term rentals and protesting Disneyland for living wages. She's a longtime resident of District 4 and a permanent fixture at council chambers. Robbins can be found tabling alongside the recall effort against Mayor Harry Sidhu. Ginning up anger at the Angel Stadium deal is a big driver behind the recall effort, but buyer beware.
The Halos are losers, both on the field and at the ballot box. Just ask the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. They swung at Tait's reelection in 2014 using the Angels as a wedge issue only to whiff badly like the Halos did against the Royals in the playoffs that year.
Annemarie Randle-Trejo, a trustee with the Anaheim Union High School District, is the third Democrat in the race. Thankfully, she beat back Harald Martin's attempt to revive his political career after trying to bill Mexico for the cost of educating undocumented students as a trustee in the 90s. But her campaign appears starved for cash outside of contributions from Andy Thornburn and his wife.
In hindsight, Unite Here Local 11 organizer Martin Lopez, as honest of a man to be found in politics, should be running for re-election in District 4. But in 2016, he bowed out in favor of Arturo Ferreras, a flawed candidate who flopped terribly against Kring.
But the past is past. In a match between three Democrats, Valencia could be all but a done deal. He secured the DPOC endorsement and finds favor among Anaheim's middle-class liberal Latinos who see him more as local raza done good than vendido. His campaign is also driving the Anaheim Democrat Forum and anyone in councilman Jose F. Moreno's political orbit batty with Facebook callouts--that wouldn't happen if he didn't have frontrunner chops.
For the Resort Elite, the House of Labor and everyone else outside the circle of critics, the real contest appears to be vying for influence after an expected Valencia win.
District 5: Los Angeles of Anaheim
I've already dedicated an entire Slingshot to breaking down incumbent councilman Steve Faessel's "Anaheim Proud" backdoor campaign amid the pandemic. But now serious money is flowing into actual campaign coffers to keep the Republican councilman in his seat for another four years. Faessel is the biggest benefactor of Disney dollars. To date, SOAR PAC has funneled $215,000 in support of his campaign.
The assumption for awhile was that Anaheim Elementary School District President Ryan Ruelas would square off against Faessel. Ruelas knows a how to run a good ground game, but Rye-Rye didn't run for some reason.
Faessel faces his most vocal challenger, then, in Democrat Kenneth Batiste. Like Robbins, Batiste is a member of the Housing is a Human Right coalition. Both activists are trying to leap from the public comments podium to the dais, but it won't be easy. Batiste enjoys Tait's endorsement. He still faces an enormous fundraising gap against Faessel.
Sabrina Quezada enters the race as a young Latina Democrat. She's a college educated single mom who went to Katella High School. The most noteworthy achievement of her campaign was gaining the endorsement of Congressman Lou Correa, a move by the lawmaker that's slicker than his shiny half dome.
A big part of Anaheim's political future belongs to youngsters like Quezada, just not in this race. Electing a Black person to council like Batiste for the first time in Anaheim's history would boost its chops as OC's emerging Chocolate City, but there's a steep hill to climb.
Heading into the election, the Angel Stadium deal is directly within District 5's confines. Efforts to turn it into an election issue have faced hurdles, especially with turmoil leaving Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) hamstrung. More than anything, a Faessel victory would retire the side of its political critics come November.
With all that being said, there's sure to be surprises. This is an election year unlike any other. What I do know is that on Election Day, you can find me at Kareem's Falafel in District 2 where I hung out in 2016. Sign me up for the Falafel Party!
- Gabriel San Román
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Lead photo: Kareem's Falafel in Anaheim's Little Arabia District will ALWAYS have my vote! / By Gabriel San Roman