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ORANGE COUNTY ELECTIONS 2002

Historic Turns for Cities, 'Great Park'?

Anaheim mayoral result may be ironic, Santa Ana's council could go majority-Latino, and an El Toro conversion windfall looks doomed.

November 06, 2002|Evan Halper and Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writers

Orange County voters, challenged to fill a slew of critical vacancies in city governments, appeared Tuesday to favor a former Republican leader as Anaheim's new mayor and were on the verge of making history in Santa Ana by electing the city's first Latino-majority City Council.

California voters also appeared to deal a major setback to the proposed "Great Park," the mammoth open space and recreational facility at the closed El Toro Marine base, by rejecting state Proposition 51. The ballot measure would provide $120 million for the Great Park project.

The opening in the Anaheim mayor's office, a vacancy created by term limits, was enough to entice former Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle out of political retirement, and the four-term state lawmaker was leading comfortably in a battle with two current council members, according to election returns late Tuesday night.

Former Orange County Supervisor Roger Stanton's bid for political redemption -- a low-profile race for Fountain Valley City Council -- appeared to fall short, returns showed.

Stanton was board chairman when the county plunged into its historic bankruptcy in 1994, and Tuesday night he was trailing three other candidates in a race for three City Council seats. Stanton ran on a platform of fiscal accountability. He and two other officials faced civil misconduct charges -- later dismissed -- in the failure to prevent the bankruptcy.

In Santa Ana, where 76% of the population is Latino, early returns indicated that the voters may -- for the first time -- elect a Latino majority on the City Council. Planner Mike Garcia was leading handily in the race for the Ward 6 seat early Tuesday night and, if victorious, would join Claudia C. Alvarez and Jose Solorio on the six-member council. Santa Ana Mayor Miguel A. Pulido ran unopposed in his bid for a third term in Orange County's largest city.

The county's first Latina member of Congress, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), appeared to be a lock to win reelection, as did the entire Orange County congressional delegation, early returns indicate.

The ascension of Latino candidates in Orange County and growing power of Latino voters countywide emerged as an issue in the Anaheim mayoral race. In 1988, Pringle and the local GOP stationed guards at polling places in Latino neighborhoods in Santa Ana because he said he feared Democrats were going to bus in illegal immigrants to vote. Pringle and the party eventually settled a civil rights lawsuit for $400,000.

However, this year, after deciding to run for mayor, Pringle reached out to Latino leaders in Anaheim and supported their fight to bring a Mexican-owned Gigante supermarket to town.

Irvine Mayor Larry Agran, riding a wave of popular support for his leadership in defeating a proposed airport at El Toro, was coasting to another term in office.

Agran assured voters during his campaign that with the airport dead, he will deliver the Great Park that was promised for the base.

"We asked the people to give us the opportunity to finish the job we began together, not just to defeat the airport, but to replace it with something better," Agran said at his election night headquarters at the Asia Noodle Cafe in Irvine.

"By this time next year, we expect to be on the runways with jackhammers," he said.But getting a park built is not going to be easy, because California voters Tuesday appeared to be rejecting state Proposition 51. The ballot measure would have made the Great Park a priority in the state budget, shifting funding from other programs. Opponents warned that the measure would wreak havoc on the state budget and was packed with hundreds of millions of dollars in goodies for developers who funded the campaign.

Incumbent Irvine Councilwoman Beth Krom, an Agran ally, also was leading in Tuesday's balloting, but Agran's coattails may not be long enough to sweep his entire slate of allies onto the City Council.

Former Mayor Christina Shea, a fierce critic of the mayor whose attorney threatened to sue Agran a few weeks ago for allegedly making false statements about her campaign platform, led slightly in her bid to return to Irvine politics.

The El Toro issue extended beyond Irvine on Tuesday night to a countywide advisory initiative intended to put public pressure on the U.S. Navy to remove all hazardous material from the base. Early returns showed strong voter support for the measure.

Among the politicians ousted from office because of term limits, Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer was well on his way to winning his bid for the state Assembly and, in early returns, Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly was leading the race to become the next county clerk-recorder.

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Times staff writers Dave McKibben, Kimi Yoshino and Phil Willon contributed to this report.

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