What to make of Tuesday’s election?
Mayor Tom Tait was elected to a second term, Mayor Pro Tem Kris Murray was the top vote-getter for council, and Councilwoman Gail Eastman has apparently been narrowly edged out by James Vanderbilt, a member of the Anaheim City School District Board of Education whom Tait recruited at the beginning of the year to run for city council. All had sufficient resources to communicate their messages to Anaheim voters, and independent expenditures were well-funded and plentiful. [NOTE: Eastman has generally been losing ground in the daily tallies since Election Day, although today she gained 99 votes – leaving her 269 votes down. A lot of Anaheim ballots were counted today – 9,513. There are only 38,591 uncounted ballots left county-wide. A huge percentage of those would have to be from Anaheim for Eastman to be able to catch Vanderbilt.]
Do the results bear out Tait’s claim to the Voice of OC that voters are “tired of tired of city leaders steering public resources to expensive projects and subsidies for the resort area and major businesses, while paying little attention to underserved neighborhoods.”
No. That’s spin.
For the moment, let’s put aside the underlying falseness of the mayor’s claim, which is part and parcel of a sustained campaign of distortion aimed at dismantling Anaheim’s traditional economic development vision. If Tait’s analysis were true, then Kris Murray would have been defeated. She has been the most vocal advocate of the public-private partnership approach to economic development. Defeating her was Team Tait’s top priority and she was subjected her a merciless, mendacious pounding from both Tait /Vanderbilt campaign proper and a $100,000 IE campaign funded by the Tait Family Trust and Howard Ahmanson via the California Homeowners Association (CHA) independent expenditure committee.
Team Tait clubbed Murray with the same themes Tait sounded in the above even more so than Eastman. Yet, Murray was the top vote-getter and received a higher percentage of the vote than four years ago. Jordan Brandman was hit with the same attacks two years ago, and he was the top vote-getter. Jose Moreno ran on much the same platform as Tait, and he finished as distant fourth place. The mayor’s interpretation of the election results is a stretch too far.
What about Gail Eastman’s narrow loss, one can legitimately ask? There are other, much more plausible explanations for her being edged out by Vanderbilt than Mayor Tait’s.
The Tait operation attacked Murray and Eastman as a unit, with two exceptions: a dishonest (but effective) attack on Eastman that targeted Republican voters, and a particularly malicious hit solely against Murray on high-speed rail. The Eastman hit falsely accused her of claiming the OC Republican Party endorsement. Given that this electorate was disproportionately Republican and more acutely aware of voting Republican, I think that hit had a real impact.
Also, Vanderbilt had a good (although misleading) ballot title: Educator/Army Captain, and good ballot placement (third on the ballot, right after defunct candidates Doug Pettibone and Jerry O’Keefe). Anaheim Hills voters also live in the Orange Unified School District, and were heavily messaged by the Yes on Measure K school bond campaign, which barely missed the 55% threshold necessary for passage. With good ballot placement and an “educator” title, Vanderbilt was well positioned to pick up “Yes on K” voters.
That makes more sense than the mayor’s explanation, which would have us believe that when Team Tait attacked Murray and Eastman together with the same negative messaging – themes Mayor Tait has been using to hammer away at his council colleagues for many months – that Anaheim voters responded by making one the top vote-getter and the other the third-lace finisher.
Tait scored a tactical victory by taking out Gail Eastman and electing James Vanderbilt. But his top target, Kris Murray, came in first despite a negative mail blitzkrieg based on the public, media-amplified criticisms he’s been relentlessly making against his colleagues for many months now. At the same time, the second, de facto member of the Tait Slate, Jose F, Moreno, ran on the same basic platform and finished a distant fourth. For his part, the mayor received a slightly smaller percentage of the vote than four years ago.
An apparent tactical win for Tait? Yes. A voter mandate? No.