Early returns in the race for the South Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees showed incumbents leading in each of the four races.
David B. Lang was leading Don Davis in Area 1; Dorothy J. Fortune was ahead of William Shane and Dave Colville in Area 3; Thomas A. Fuentes was leading Robert D. "Bob" Loeffler in Area 6, which, surprisingly, was the closest race; and John S. Williams was beating Bill Hochmuth and John L. Minnella in Area 7.
The campaign matched two opposing groups, one calling itself the Clean Slate, which was aligned with the teachers union, and the other supporting the board majority and administration.
The Clean Slate was made up of Lang, Shane, Loeffler and Hochmuth. Their opponents, who did not have a label, were Davis, Fortune, Fuentes and Williams.
"It looks like incumbency carried the day," said Eileen Padberg, a campaign consultant to the Clean Slate.
The race marked the first run for public office by Fuentes, the longtime head of the Orange County Republican Party, who has come under fire from some party activists for his hard-right politics. Still, because of his high profile in county politics, he was expected to sail to an easy victory. Fuentes, who was appointed to the board earlier this year, said it had been difficult being a candidate because he retains his party chairman hat. "People stop me and remind me that I'm running for something on my own," he said.
The district, with 33,000 students at Irvine Valley and Saddleback colleges, has been rife with contentiousness for several years, and this election was no different.
The campaign became a battleground for several ongoing fights: between union factions, between pro- and anti-administration groups and, in some instances, between liberals and conservatives.
Inflammatory and anonymous fliers were circulated during the campaign saying that the so-called Clean candidates supported domestic-partner benefits and a gay-and-lesbian-studies program.
Board President Nancy M. Padberg, part of the board majority, said those subjects were not an issue in the campaign.
One flier even made the untrue claim that one of the challengers had been endorsed by NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Love Assn., an obscure group that endorses pedophilia.
Although no one knows who was behind the fliers, they are similar to one the teachers union sent out in 1996 attacking Lang and his slate. With a change in union leadership in 1998, the group's endorsements also flipped, and this election the union supported the challengers.
The California Teachers Assn. is investigating whether money raised under the old union leadership to support political candidates was mismanaged. Most of the former union presidents who controlled the fund have refused to cooperate, and the CTA may take the issue to court, said David Lebow, who heads the probe for the CTA.
In addition, community college district police are investigating whether employees and officials used district supplies for political purposes in the 1996 election. The investigation was opened last month when trustee Williams brought his suspicions to Chancellor Cedric Sampson. Lang said he is a target.
Even before the election, the district was synonymous with controversy. The community college accrediting agency said the district was "wracked by malfunction" and placed it on warning status. It finally accredited Irvine Valley and Saddleback in February.
Much of the controversy centered on Trustee Steven J. Frogue, who was accused of being an anti-Semite. He resigned in June, and the board appointed Fuentes to replace him.