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This Time, Uranga Wins in Long Beach

Election: Her narrow victory in a runoff for City Council seat is a rematch of her loss to Donelon in a 1994 race to represent 7th District.

June 12, 2002|NANCY WRIDE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tonia Reyes Uranga beat Mike Donelon by 58 votes for the Long Beach City Council's 7th District seat, based on a final count Tuesday of absentee ballots from last week's election.

Donelon has five days to request a recount. His campaign consultant said he didn't know whether Donelon, who is in Mexico, would do that. Uranga could not be reached.

It is the second close call for the two candidates in an election. Eight years ago, Donelon beat Uranga by one vote for the same council seat. She requested a recount and eventually filed a lawsuit challenging the results.

A judge called for a new election, which Donelon won by a larger margin.

The June 4 city election decided only three offices: the council seat, a school board seat and mayor. It was the mayor's race that drew the most attention because of its weird twists.

Incumbent Beverly O'Neill had sought reelection, but city term limits only allowed her to run as a write-in. She placed first in the April primary, but because she couldn't appear on the ballot the second-place finisher had the ballot to himself in June. A second write-in campaign was launched by the primary's third-place finisher.

O'Neill won the mayoral race. But with 5,200 ballots uncounted--mostly absentees turned in at polls after 1 p.m. on election day--the council race was too close to call.

Last week's election was a runoff because neither Donelon nor Uranga won 50% of the primary vote. In votes counted by last Wednesday, Uranga led Donelon by 16 votes.

"Tonia ran a good race," said Donelon's campaign consultant, Jeff Adler, who also worked on Donelon's campaign eight years ago.

Without a breakdown of voter turnout by precinct, Adler said, the result suggests the 7th District to be an area of transition. The California Heights portion where Donelon is strong is largely white; the west side is primarily Latino and African American, Adler said.

"I think the election speaks to changing demographics in Long Beach," he said.

"I think you're beginning to see the Latino population emerging [at the poll]," he said. "Uranga campaigned very heavily that it ... was important to have a Latino on the council."

Councilman Ray Grabinski's endorsement of Uranga surely helped her, but Adler said as a Latina she also succeeded in a non-Latino-dominated district.

"That means low-propensity voters turned out, and that would be Latinos in that district," Adler said. "I gotta believe she did a good job of turning them out" at the polls.

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