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LOCAL ELECTIONS / SANTA ANA CITY COUNCIL

Control at Stake in Intense 2-Slate Confrontation

September 28, 1996|JEFF KASS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA ANA — An Artists Village, a trash contract and crime are at issue in a bitter battle for control of Santa Ana's City Council.

But more than a contest among 14 candidates, it is a war between two slates that will be decided on election day, Nov. 5.

On one side is Councilman Ted R. Moreno, who, in his bid for reelection, is challenging what he calls "special interests" and city expenditures on everything from trash hauling to municipal vehicles. He is backing a slate with two other like-minded candidates.

On the other side is a slate backed by the city's Chamber of Commerce, with four loosely allied candidates, two of whom are political veterans.

Each slate, vying for four seats on the seven-member council, has raised tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds. And although seven independent candidates want on the council, none has substantial campaign financing.

Such a tense, two-slate contest is "a little unusual for Santa Ana," said Steve Critchfield, president of the Santa Ana Firemen's Benevolent Assn., whose organization has yet to endorse anyone.

Moreno, 29, who often challenges the council majority, now has only one reliable ally on the panel, boyhood friend Tony Espinoza. But if Moreno and fellow slate candidates Hector Olivares and Roman Palacios win, they would, along with Espinoza, control the council.

Moreno and his two slate members have raised approximately $65,500, with $50,000 raised by Moreno alone, according to the latest finance statements filed in July.

Opposing slate members include political newcomers Brett Franklin), and Jose Solorio, along with incumbents Miguel A. Pulido Jr. and Thomas E. Lutz. Collectively, they have raised about $87,000.

In addition to three council seats, the mayor's gavel is up for grabs, with the winner serving a two-year term. Pulido, the incumbent, is being challenged by newcomer Leah DuPont, who has never held elected office and has raised less than $1,000, according to the most recent campaign finance statements.

The other 12 candidates will battle over three council seats, which have four-year terms.

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Based on past elections, each candidate must raise about $50,000 to make a viable bid for office.

The race comes as the council is deeply divided. The rifts show up even in mundane discussions.

In February, for example, a squabble broke out over whether to purchase a four-wheel drive Chevy Blazer or a pickup truck. The difference in price was a few thousand dollars, in a city with a $124-million budget.

Moreno and Espinoza voted against purchasing the vehicle because they said it was not in the taxpayers' best interest. Other council members agreed with city staff that the all-terrain, enclosed Blazer was needed to traverse dry creek beds and store city equipment without fear of theft.

Moreno, a real estate agent, took office four years ago as one of the youngest politicians in city history. He says he is running against special interests such as the Chamber of Commerce.

But he has benefited from thousands of dollars in contributions from business interests such as the Browning Ferris Industries and Western Waste Industries trash companies, and the Gonzalez Northgate Market chain.

Crime in Santa Ana, a city with a large number of gang members, also has been an issue. Yet there is sometimes a split over how incumbents and challengers--even those on the same slate--view the problem.

Incumbent Lutz, for example, boasts that the crime rate has dropped by 40%, while fellow slate member Franklin worries in one mailer that "We are all victims of crime, or the fear of crime. . . . That keeps us locked up in our homes."

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The Artists Village, a group of public and private downtown buildings dedicated to the arts, has long been supported by a majority of council members, including Moreno, as a way to revitalize the city's image and beautify its downtown.

But in the last year, Moreno has criticized art displays such as condoms floating in jars of honey. Various buildings within the village have received close to $4.5 million in city subsidies.

Trash became an issue earlier this year when the City Council renewed Great Western Reclamation's $20 million a year trash-hauling contract for another 12 years.

Moreno said the city should have put the contract out to bid. Only Espinoza joined Moreno in opposing the contract, while other council members defended it for bringing lower fees to residents.

More than 70% of Santa Ana's residents are Latino. Amin David, president of Los Amigos of Orange County, said his advocacy group was pleased at the Latino community's representation in the race.

One of the most heated races--Ward 1--involves Latinos Solorio and Moreno, but Los Amigos isn't taking sides.

"We say, by gosh, maybe the Latinos have arrived," said David. He termed the political rhetoric in the race "harsh bullets," but added: "That's politics, I guess."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Santa Ana Setup

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