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ORANGE COUNTY

Santa Ana City Council Gains a Latino Majority

Mike Garcia's election means the makeup of the panel finally reflects city populace.

November 07, 2002|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

With the election of Mike Garcia on Tuesday, Santa Ana's City Council gained its first Latino majority -- two decades after the city's population reached that milestone.

Garcia handily beat five competitors in Ward 6 with 42.5% of the vote.

Garcia, a 31-year-old city-planning consultant, joins Mayor Miguel Pulido, who ran unopposed, and incumbents Jose Solorio and Claudia Alvarez to form the Latino majority on the seven-member council.

Council members, however, downplay the significance of the moment. And the four have varied political views, making it unlikely they will vote as a bloc. But observers say the election demonstrates how Latinos are gaining political power in a city that is now 76% Latino.

"It serves as an example that Latinos can make a contribution," Garcia said. "At the same time, it's not something I've given a lot of thought to."

Jim Walker, chairman of Santa Ana Neighborhood Communication Linkages, an umbrella group of 57 neighborhood groups in the city, said the council's demographics should resemble the city's population. "It's high time," he said. "I just hope we see that it means the best for everybody."

Political observers point out that Garcia received endorsements from individuals and groups that support the status quo, including most incumbents and police and fire organizations. He also was able to get support from janitors and labor unions that traditionally have chosen more left-of-center candidates.

"The results really validate that the city is going in the right direction," Solorio said.

Alvarez said the Latino majority could encourage some residents who have felt uncomfortable approaching the board. But more important, the result shows that voters in conservative Orange County have concluded "that we are not that scary," she said.

Rosalind Gold, senior policy and research director at National Assn. of Latino Election Officials, said most California cities with Latino populations as big as Santa Ana's already have Latino majorities on their councils. Santa Ana may lag behind because the city has grown rapidly in recent years with immigrants from Mexico and Central America who cannot yet vote, she said.

Tuesday's election illustrates "continuing empowerment," she said.

Even though Garcia received endorsements from many city institutions, he is a political newcomer.

Candidate Robert L. Henson, who placed second in the Ward 6 race with 16% of the vote, contended during the campaign that Mayor Pulido backed Garcia as a candidate who would follow his lead on the council. Pulido did not return calls seeking comment, but Garcia disputed the contention.

"I worked hard to get a variety of supporters," he said.

Garcia works for Rosenow Spevacek Group, a Santa Ana-based city-planning consulting company that has just signed a deal with the city. Under the agreement, the group and two other companies will take possession of three downtown buildings, provided each spends about $500,000 in renovations.

Garcia says his job has given him insights on how cities work and what can help Santa Ana. Among his first tasks will be to forge better relations with business associations.

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