Anaheim’s Council Election Draws Fewest Candidates In More Than 20 Years

One of the claims made by proponents of district elections used to make is they would spur greater political competition and encourage more residents to run for council.

So far, there are barely enough candidates in each of Anaheim’s council districts to hold an election.

In Districts 2 and 3, only two candidates qualified in each district. The filing deadline in District 6 has been extended to 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, August 17 (incumbent Trevor O’Neil is running for mayor rather than seeking re-election), and so far only two candidates have filed.

DISTRICT 2
Councilwoman Gloria Ma’ae – who was appointed to the seat in September of last year following the resignation of Jordan Brandman – filed for re-election. She will face off with Carlos Leon, a progressive Democrat who is backed by the Democrat political establishment. Ma’ae is a registered independent.

Rida Hamida, a progressive Democrat and Arab-American activist, filed a candidate intention statement and formed a campaign committee, and filed her nomination papers. According to the OC Registrar of Voters, they received Hamida’s nomination papers from the city clerk at 11:55 a.m. on Friday, August 12 (the deadline for filing). The ROV examined the Hamida’s nomination signatures and notified the city clerk at 4:38 p.m. that Hamida was short of the necessary 20 valid voter signatures.

Hamida learned about the shortfall at 4:45 p.m. from the city clerk, leaving her no time to gather additional signatures.

Hamida was a staffer for former Rep. Loretta Sanchez for many years, and is a member of Anaheim’s Cultural and Heritage Commission – a perch she used to push through city recognition of October 10 as “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

Another ballot no-show was Rudy Gaona, a council gadfly and perennial candidate.  Gaona applied for the District 2 vacancy before dramatically pulling his application during the council meeting at which the appointment was to be made.  Since then, he had been a fixture of council meetings, using the public comment period to fulminate against Ma’ae and vowing to defeat her in the November election.

However, Gaona never took a step beyond filing a candidate intention statement last September, and the filing deadline closed without him moving a muscle to qualify.

DISTRICT 3
Incumbent Councilman Jose F. Moreno is termed out, and voters will choose between two Democrats: Natalie Rubalcava and Al Jabbar.

Rubalcava is a life-long resident of the district, where she lives with her husband and two children. She is a moderate Democrat who works as Chief Operating Officer of the Orange County Business Council and has earned a broad cross-section of support from community organizations and leaders, public safety and elected officials.

Al Jabbar is a self-described member of the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party and Moreno’s chosen successor. He is a member of the Anaheim Union High School District Board of Education. In the midst of the devastating COVID-19 school shutdowns, Jabbar denied there was any learning loss among AUHSD students and ordered staff not to use that phrase.

Jabbar was Jose Moreno’s campaign manager in 2016, and is currently deputy chief of staff to Supervisor Doug Chaffee.

DISTRICT 6
Mayor Pro Tem Trevor O’Neil opted last week to run for the open mayoral seat rather than seek second term representing his Anaheim Hills-based district. Consequently,m the filing deadline is extended to 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, August 17.

Prior to running for mayor, O’Neil had drawn only one opponent, attorney Harry Lal, who has qualified for the ballot.

Since then, Natalie Meeks, the city’s former public works director, has filed to run for the seat. Meeks, like O’Neil, espouses a pro-business, pro-law enforcement philosophy and would obviously bring to the job a wealth of knowledge about city operations.

If no other candidate qualifies, Meeks and Lal will battle it out in District 6.

MAYOR
There are four candidates for mayor:

Ashleigh Aitken, an attorney and OC Fair Board member who narrowly lost to former Mayor Harry Sidhu in 2018.

Lorri Galloway, executive director of the Eli Home and former councilwoman who finished third in 2018 behind Sidhu and Aitken.

Trevor O’Neil, a successful businessman and the mayor pro team, who won a contentious three-way election in 2018 to represent District 6.

Dick Lopez, a career employee of Anaheim Public Utilities.

More on this race in future articles.

LOW CANDIDATE TURNOUT

When district elections advocates were making their arguments (and suing the city) during 2012-2014, one of their claims was that replacing at-large with from-district elections would encourage more citizens to run for office.

However, the reality has fallen short of the promise – despite going to district elections and increasing the size of the city council.

Running in a district would be far less expensive than running city-wide, their reasoning went – plus residents would be more excited about representing and advocating for their “neighborhood” (although each Anaheim council district is larger than many Orange County cities in terms of population).

Yet twice as many people are running in the at-large mayor’s race than in each council district. Indeed, there are nearly as many mayoral hopefuls (four) as the total number of council candidates (six, so far).

Barring another candidate qualifying in District 6, this November’s crop of council candidates will be Anaheim’s smallest in at least 20 years.

There was record number of candidates in 2016, which was the first use of district elections in Anaheim. But there were also four council districts on the ballot, instead of the usual three.  Since then, the number of council district candidates has steadily dropped: 11 council candidates in 2018 and 10 council candidates in 2020.

During the at-large era, large candidate fields were more the rule:

2014:  4 mayoral candidates and 8 council candidates

2012:  9 council candidates

2010:  3 mayoral and 14 council candidates

2008:  10 council candidates

2006:  2 mayoral and 7 council candidates

2004:  13 council candidates

2002:  4 mayoral and 11 council candidates.

I’m not arguing causality.  But it is interesting to not the downward trend in the number of Anaheim citizens running for city council since the advent of districts – while the number of candidates for the at-large mayoral berth has held comparatively constant.

What is remarkable about this year is the absence from the Anaheim council ballot of any genuine grass-roots, Joe-Citizen council candidates (with the quasi-exception of Lal, a gadfly who may have he ability to write his campaign a substantial check).  In District 2, for example, Carlos Leon – for all the community activist gloss -has already raised a substantial warchest and racked a slew of endorsements from elected Democrats from as far away as the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

District 3 is a battle between two coalitions: a traditional Anaheim coalition of business, the trades, public safety and neighborhoods (for Rubalcava) v. a coalition of left-wing activists, progressive educators and militant union members (for Jabbar). Both candidates will have significant resources and wage professionally-managed campaigns.

Regardless of the outcomes, perhaps this election cycle will put to rest this particular myth about the magical properties of district elections.

CORRECTION: an earlier version of this story reported erroneously that Hamida was notified several hours before the filing deadline that she was short of the necessary 20 valid vote signatures to qualify but did not take stops to obtain additional signatures. We regret the error.

One comment

  1. I will believe in Anaheim again the day they actually include west Anaheim district 1 as part of Anaheim and actually make major decisions to improve it today, not just make promises.
    Mayors and council come and go, but residents here have been begging them to remove the blighted, non compliant, dangerous, criminally infested, transient residing motels for decades and decades.
    Why should anyone vote for any if you?
    Show us, don’t promise us.
    Then, and only then, will we believe.

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