Raising a thick-soled shoe in his fist, Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn declared Thursday that he will rely on door-to-door campaigning, a long civil rights record and the broad support of Oxnard residents to win a record-tying eighth term next March.
"My gut is my polling place, and my gut tells me I'm going to win," said Flynn, flanked by family members and about 150 supporters who gathered for his campaign kickoff at the Whale's Tail restaurant in Oxnard's Channel Islands Harbor.
The announcement follows months of feuding between Flynn and community leaders who say the veteran supervisor is a political bully who runs his Oxnard-based district like a fiefdom.
A core of Latino activists, meanwhile, believes the time for a Latino supervisor in the Latino-majority 5th District is long past due and say Flynn, 70, should have honored a promise to step down after he finishes his current term.
They have accused Flynn of dividing the Latino community by forcing leaders to publicly align with him or face retribution.
"He has done things that have hurt the community in the past few years, and we will let the public decide whether they want to keep him," said Denis O'Leary, a bilingual education advocate who has sparred with Flynn.
That enmity sets the stage for what could be Flynn's toughest campaign in years.
Oxnard Councilman John Zaragoza, a third-generation Oxnard resident and respected businessman, has already announced his intention to run for the seat.
"If I was a betting man, I would not bet against Flynn," said Herb Gooch, chairman of the political science department at Cal Lutheran University. "It's his to lose. But I think he will have a good fight."
Flynn was first elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1972 but was defeated four years later. He reclaimed the seat in 1980 and has held it ever since, making the feisty and politically skilled Democrat the dean of county politics.
If he is reelected and completes another term, his 32 years in office will tie with former Supervisor Thomas Clark for the distinction of Ventura County's longest-sitting supervisor. Clark served from 1904 to 1936.
Flynn is known as a champion of the poor, especially of the farm workers who make up his district. The supervisor also frequently speaks up on behalf of the county's mentally ill and homeless.
He also is known for promptly helping constituents with problems. As the Latino population in Oxnard grew, Flynn took intensive Spanish courses so he could better converse with residents.
Those political skills, combined with his many years in office, will probably trump whatever negative publicity Flynn has gotten for occasional flashes of temper, Gooch predicted.
"One would be a fool to discount the fact that John Flynn has powerful IOUs and a powerful presence in that community," he said. "He didn't learn Spanish for nothing."
Flynn said he still has projects he wants to complete, chief among them building more housing for farm workers. He would like to see at least 500 more units built by the end of his next term, the supervisor said.
He also cites a sewer project in El Rio and revitalizing Channel Islands Harbor as top priorities.
On Thursday, several supporters gave testimonials about Flynn's service. One man recounted how the supervisor promptly helped him secure a new business license.
Others talked of streets being paved, garbage collected and unsightly utilities being buried underground, thanks to Flynn's support. Several alluded to Flynn's propensity to speak bluntly and the criticism it has sometimes generated.
"When you are an Irishman and have fire in the belly, sometimes when you open your mouth to speak, sparks come out," said Jess Herrera, a commissioner at the Port of Hueneme.
Flynn has clashed with several Oxnard leaders in recent years. Irma Lopez, the wife of Oxnard Mayor Manny Lopez, accused Flynn of threatening her at a Democratic fund-raiser last year.
More recently, Latino activists have accused Flynn of orchestrating a campaign to oust Yolanda Benitez, a political enemy, as superintendent of the Rio School District.
Benitez is currently on suspension while the school board investigates charges that she forced parents to enroll students in bilingual classes.
Flynn has dismissed the accusations against him as false or overblown. Nothing ever came from the police complaint that Lopez filed following their confrontation, he noted.
On Thursday, he reminded supporters that the last quarter-century of public service has given him knowledge that cannot be matched. That is important as government becomes increasingly complex, he said.
"The job today is so demanding that I think we need to keep me," he told the crowd.
"I have learned a lot in the last 27 years, and I don't think we ought to throw that away."