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Orange County | ELECTION 2002

Norby: 'I'm That Change'

Supervisors: History teacher and Fullerton councilman who opposed international airport at Marine base beats Cynthia P. Coad.


It was nearly 4 a.m. Wednesday, and with 353 of 354 precincts counted, the result was all but certain. Friends finally convinced Orange County supervisor-elect Chris Norby that he'd better get some sleep. Because in just a few hours, he'd need to return to his real job: teaching history at Brea-Olinda High School.

When Norby arrived on campus, bleary-eyed but savoring victory, he was cheered by teachers and staff members. They too knew he had just pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the county's political history.

A late entry into the 4th District Board of Supervisors' race, Norby, 52, a Fullerton city councilman, defeated incumbent Cynthia P. Coad, 54% to 46%. Coad, who was seeking a second term, had outspent him 5 to 1 and had wrapped up most of the major endorsements before he was even a candidate.

But they were running in a redrawn district where a substantial number of voters had never cast a ballot for Coad but were familiar with Norby. And he positioned himself as an opponent of an international airport at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and a critic of supervisors who let the debate over El Toro drown out other county issues.

Coad has long been part of the board's three-member majority favoring an airport.

"The voters wanted change, and I'm that change!" he yelled to supporters at his campaign headquarters in downtown Fullerton awaiting election results Tuesday night.

Norby sat patiently with a handful of volunteers and well-wishers, one eye on the corner TV that was showing "Wheel of Fortune," another on a laptop computer. On its screen was the county registrar of voters' Web site, which soon would begin flashing the precinct-by-precinct tallies.

They were optimistic over the first returns, even though their candidate was trailing. But when he surged ahead for good at 10:20 p.m., the cheers were thunderous. A theme song emerged:

"Who let the dogs out. Woof! Woof!"

It was an insider reference to a late campaign mailer in which Coad accused Norby of being a lap dog for South County because most of his campaign funds had come from South County opponents of the El Toro airport proposal. The mailer showed Norby's face on a dog's body.

Norby, buoyed by the vote numbers going his way, put the mailer to his face and scurried around the five-room suite barking. The song was a constant cheer throughout the night.

"Chris worked so very hard," said Julia Emerson, his girlfriend and one of his chief campaign strategists. "We all did. But wow, this is so worth it."

In victory toasts, the candidate was generous in his praise of those who helped him win, including former state Sen. John Lewis, his campaign manager, and Lewis' colleague, Matt Holder. John Cross, head of the Fullerton Assn. of Police Officers, got great applause when he walked in.

"We love the FAPO," Lewis yelled.

"And we love Chris," Cross replied.

Still, long after the voting trend suggested he would win, Norby was waiting for the final results. "I've still got some Yogi Berra in me," he said. "It ain't over till it's over."

After the throng departed, someone asked Norby what he'd do until he takes office in early January. "In a few hours, go back to my students," he said.

Wednesday morning, Norby was on campus early. It was his first day back from a month of unpaid leave he'd taken to campaign.

Norby talked with his students about the campaign for a few minutes, but he soon was delving into 1950s American life and talking about students' assignments.

He has been teaching most of his adult life and clearly was at home in the classroom. But he had to remind his class: "This may be the very last time I ever teach."

"Oh, no," one girl said.

Norby smiled.

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