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Board Votes Coad Into Lead Seat

January 10, 2001|DAVID REYES | TIME STAFF WRITER

Orange County supervisors on Tuesday unanimously elected Cynthia P. Coad as the board chairwoman--only the second woman in the county's 111-year history to hold the post.

Coad replaces Chuck Smith, who was chairman for two consecutive years. She is the third woman to serve on the board and the first to chair it since Harriett M. Wieder's third term in the post ended in 1994.

A mother of seven who taught herself Spanish, Coad will bring a different style to the post, which is usually ceremonial but has taken more political overtones because of the El Toro airport issue.

Coad was elected to the board in 1998 when she defeated Anaheim Councilman Lou Lopez with 58% of the vote.

During her two years she has spearheaded neighborhood preservation, especially in Latino communities, and positioned herself as a champion for families in the county's unincorporated areas. She once donned a construction helmet and wielded a sledgehammer as part of a cleanup drive for the El Modena community near Orange that included an anti-gang and code enforcement campaign.

Her selection Tuesday, though, did not come without some drama.

Minority board member Todd Spitzer initially tried to nominate Supervisor Jim Silva, knowing that his rival did not have enough votes and would suffer the humiliation of being rejected. When the smoke cleared, though, Silva did land on his feet as vice chair with Spitzer complaining that the results were predetermined.

"It was totally orchestrated," Spitzer said. As proof, he pointed to the fact that Coad had read her acceptance speech. Coad denied that she came to the meeting armed with a speech and only decided to "scribble a few notes . . . just in case I did win the chairmanship."

Spitzer and colleague Tom Wilson--both opponents of building an airport at the retired Marine base--said they believe there is dissension among the three pro-airport supervisors, especially Silva and Smith. Otherwise, "why would Silva pass up a chance for the chairmanship?" Spitzer said.

But Silva denied such a crack in the pro-airport alliance and said he has served as chairman and did not want the job again. "Smith and I are good friends," Silva said after the meeting.

Spitzer was not alone in criticizing the day's jockeying .

Patricia Harrigan of the League of Women Voters of Orange County, which is neutral on county topics, said the election was disappointing to her as a government observer, because it "was so predictable and dominated by one issue, El Toro."

"There are other issues in this county," Harrigan said.

By Tuesday afternoon, Coad was already busily jotting notes for staff to prepare for the transition and a state of the county speech she will give Jan. 23.

As chair, she will oversee several major projects and issues, including a potential jail expansion at the James A. Musick facility near Lake Forest, El Toro planning and the county lawsuit challenging Measure H, a recently approved initiative that directs that most of the county's tobacco settlement money be spent on health care.

Coad does not believe that Measure F, the anti-airport initiative approved in March by 67.3% of the voters and invalidated by a judge last month, will prove to be a factor in 2001.

"As far as Measure F is concerned, for all intents and purposes, it's dead," Coad said during an interview after the meeting.

Airport opponents plan to appeal the judge's ruling on Measure F but also have said they may focus on repealing Measure A, the 1994 measure still in force that included an airport in the county's General Plan.

"What's dead is the airport," said Meg Waters, a spokeswoman for the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority, a coalition of eight cities opposed to the airport. "Measure F is alive and I believe [Coad] is grossly misjudging the voters and the judiciary."

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