Attorney Ashleigh Aitken has announced her candidacy for mayor of Anaheim, setting up a re-match with Mayor Harry Sidhu, who defeated her in 2018. Aitken filed her initial paperwork yesterday.

Aitken, a liberal Democrat and former federal prosecutor, is a member of the Orange County Fair Board, a post to which she was appointed in 2012 by Governor Jerry Brown.

In a press release issued yesterday, Aitken stated:

“Anaheim is my hometown–an incredible city where neighbors look out for one another and diverse families come together to realize the American dream. But that dream is getting harder to achieve for many residents, and Anaheim’s mayor is more focused on making backroom deals to benefit his politically connected friends than he is on improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods. I’m running for Mayor to advocate for our neighborhoods by protecting taxpayers against waste and giveaways, tackling the homelessness crisis with urgency, protecting public health, and helping local businesses and workers recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic. I’ll bring much needed honesty, transparency, and a spirit of cooperation with me to City Hall, and I’ll work hard every day to listen and deliver results for our city’s residents. I am excited to announce my candidacy, and I am looking forward to the campaign ahead.” 

Harry Sidhu, who had previously served on the Anaheim City Council from 2004 to 2012, narrowly prevailed over Aitken in a multi-candidate field in 2018, which included former Councilwoman Lorri Galloway and council critic Cynthia Ward (Aitken and Ward were co-endorsed by outgoing Mayor Tom Tait):

A year later, Aitken announced she would challenge 3rd District Supervisor Don Wagner’s bid for a full term on the OC Board of Supervisors, but defeated in a head-to-head contest in the March 2020 primary, 52.3% to 47.7%.

Sidhu and Aitken are thus far the only two declared mayoral candidates.

The dynamics are different going into 2022 than they were in 2018. Four years ago, it was an open seat, while this year Sidhu is running as the incumbent mayor with a record of accomplishments to communicate to voters. While Aitken will dispute that record, she can’t make it go away.

Sidhu’s campaign will presumably re-assemble a coalition of business owners, public safety, pro-economic development groups like the Building Traces Council (which endorsed Sidhu last week), and others. Aitken can count on support from the Democratic Party of Orange County, progressive activists and interest groups such as trial lawyers and militant unions like UNITE-HERE Local 11.

Both candidates are proven fundraisers who will have the resources to talk to voters.

The make-up of the candidate field is still an X-factor in the race. In 2018, Sidhu ultimately benefited by the presence of two serious female Democrat candidates on the ballot.  Galloway was polling strong until the Orange County Employees Association (which was backing Aitken at the time) attacked her with a blistering independent expenditure campaign.

Tilting in Aitken’s favor is the strong citywide Democrat voter registration edge:

  • 44% Democrat
  • 27.3% Republican
  • 23.4% No Party Preference

That’s a slight change from November 2018, when the numbers stood at 41% Democrat, 28% Republican and 26% NPP. What has changed significantly is the national and state political climate, which bleeds into down-ballot races in these polarized times. Anti-Trump feeling was running at fever pitch in 2018, enabling Democrats to sweep every congressional seat in the county.

Now Trump is out of office, and the two top Democrat office holders – President Joe Biden and Governor Gavin Newsom – are beset by a host of troubles. Next month, Newsom faces a recall for which support continues to grow – particularly among traditionally Democrat constituencies.  Biden’s approval continues to slide in the wake of unprecedented spending, his inability to control the border, growing inflation, the totally mismanaged withdrawal from Afghanistan – plus growing voter perception that the Democrats are increasingly the party of defunding the police and radical educational ideologies like Critical Race Theory.

While these issues aren’t necessarily determinative in local races like that for mayor of Anaheim, they frame the political environment in which those races take place.

One thing there is little disagreement on among political observers: the 2022 Anaheim mayoral race will be hard-fought, expensive and close.