SANTA ANA — Huntington Beach Councilman Jim Silva appeared headed for victory early today in the 2nd District race for supervisor, moving toward one of the most sweeping leadership changes on the Board of Supervisors in nearly 15 years.
By a healthy margin, Silva was beating Huntington Beach Mayor Linda Moulton Patterson in one of the most expensive and hotly contested races in Orange County's general election.
Silva was hesitant to declare victory, but the weary candidate was moving about his crowded Westin South Coast Plaza hotel suite flashing the thumbs-up sign.
"I'm very excited, but my heart just hasn't told me I've won yet," he said. "When it does, I'll have a glass of champagne."
In the race for the newly created county clerk/recorder post, Clerk Gary L. Granville held a commanding lead over his opponent, Recorder Lee A. Branch. And, in the county's only contested judicial race, prosecutor Caryl Lee and Municipal Judge Dan C. Dutcher were neck and neck, early returns showed.
But by far, the most closely watched local contest was for the 2nd District seat on the Board of Supervisors, a bitter race in which both candidates hurled insults and accused the other of lying about their records.
Even though final results were still hours away, a confident Silva said he was going to retire before midnight.
"I've got to get up at 5 a.m. to go to school," the high school teacher said.
Moulton Patterson refused to concede. "It's going to be a long night," she said.
She did, however, speculate that a loss would probably end her political career.
"I put my heart and soul into this one," she said from her headquarters in Huntington Beach.
Moulton Patterson said a Silva victory would mean business as usual in the county.
"Developers will continue to have an inordinate amount of power in this county," she said.
Although the supervisorial seats are nonpartisan positions, the contest was clearly fought along partisan lines.
Silva, a Republican, drew support from local Republican leaders. Moulton Patterson, a Democrat, listed several labor unions and Democratic leaders as supporters, as well as some notable Republicans.
Despite their party affiliations, the two candidates held similar, though not identical, views on many county issues. Both favor responsible development of the Bolsa Chica wetlands and an airport at El Toro; both oppose rent control of apartments or mobile home parks.
Silva campaigned on his record and offered few specific proposals for county government, while Moulton Patterson offered a host of measures, including a call for at least one night meeting a month, performance audits of county departments for cost-saving opportunities, and 10% cuts in board office budgets. She also said she would not accept a county-provided car.
The winner will join state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) as rookie board members in January and fill the vacancies left by Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder in the 2nd District and Board Chairman Thomas F. Riley in the 5th District. Bergeson was elected to the 5th District seat in June. The last time two new supervisors joined the board at the same time was in 1981.
The race was one of the more costly contests in the county, with each candidate spending more than $140,000 in the primary election and at least that much during the general election, county records show. Nonetheless, county campaign reform laws enacted in 1992 kept contribution levels lower than those in 1986--the last time there was an open contested seat on the board.
In the race for the newly created county clerk/recorder post, Granville emerged from the primary earlier this year as the top vote-getter, but was forced into Tuesday's runoff with Branch because Granville did not garner more than 50% of the vote.
"I'm very gratified," Granville said Tuesday night as early returns showed that his lead was approaching a 2 to 1 ratio over Branch. "I don't want to sound boastful, but I think the lead will hold."
Branch had remained a strong candidate even though he was censured by the County Board of Supervisors for misconduct in office and was the subject of harassment allegations by employees within the office.
A grand jury investigation failed to corroborate the harassment allegations but the panel did find substantial office mismanagement problems.
In the only Orange County Municipal Court race, incumbent Judge Dutcher was holding a narrow lead over challenger Lee. Dutcher said he thought the slim margin could hold.
"This has been the most stressful night of my 12 years on the bench," Dutcher said. "I would like to have a bigger margin, but I think I'm on track."
Lee has accused her opponent of being soft on crime, criticizing Dutcher's handling of a vehicular manslaughter case last year where a 13-year-old boy was killed by a hit-and-run driver.
Dutcher has sued Lee for libel, alleging that Lee's campaign literature has misstated his record. He also accused Lee of having a poor conviction record as a prosecutor, claiming that she had lost the only two trials she had prosecuted in court. Lee has said Dutcher's statements are untrue, adding that her courtroom record is irrelevant.