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Zaragoza and Flynn in a Tight Cash Race

The Oxnard councilman says it will take more than money to beat the 5th District supervisor.

October 15, 2003|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Oxnard Councilman John Zaragoza has emerged as the best-funded challenger to longtime Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn, so far raising nearly $41,000 in his attempt to unseat the popular incumbent.

Contributions from police unions, business owners and Zaragoza's wide circle of family members pushed his contribution totals to $40,907 for the period beginning Jan. 1 and ending Sept. 30.

That is within striking distance of the $42,360 raised by Flynn, seeking a record-tying eighth term in the March 2 primary election.

Oxnard Mayor Manny Lopez, who launched his own Flynn challenge last month and is the only other candidate in the race, loaned his campaign $18,873 but reported no contributions. Finance statements were due Friday.

Zaragoza's energetic start shows he is committed to a real campaign and that he has the resources to carry it off, said Pat Buckley, spokesman for the Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs' Assn.

"We think he's very pro-public safety and would be good for Ventura County," said Buckley, whose union gave Zaragoza $600. "And we'll be doing what we can to help him out."

But Zaragoza acknowledged it would take more than money to beat Flynn, a popular liberal Democrat in the heavily Latino 5th District.

He and his supporters have been walking neighborhoods in the Oxnard-based district for weeks and are organizing numerous community events to persuade voters that Zaragoza would do a better job representing them.

"I need to work very hard, continue walking the precincts and continue taking out my message that it's time for a change," he said.

Flynn said he wasn't too concerned about Zaragoza's fund-raising prowess. Flynn said he was doing his own walking and the people who answered doors said they were happy with his representation.

"I'm very confident. I'm going by what people tell me in the precincts," Flynn said. "I know Zaragoza says the same thing, but he really hasn't walked much. He's mostly just throwing leaflets at doorsteps."

Meanwhile, contributions remained steady to the campaigns of the two other supervisors whose seats will be up for reelection, Steve Bennett and Kathy Long.

Bennett has raised $114,029 since January and has so far spent less than $20,000. Long has raised $60,423, with $48,000 remaining. Neither faces a challenger, but the candidacy filing period does not close until December.

This is the first county election campaign in which contribution amounts are tightly controlled by a campaign finance reform law passed by the Board of Supervisors in March.

Under that law, candidates may accept a maximum of $600 from each contributor and raise a total of $150,000. Contributions also will be monitored for the first time by an ethics commission empowered to levy fines if laws are skirted.

The effect has already showed up in Flynn's contest. When the deputy sheriffs' union backed the opponent of Supervisor Judy Mikels two years ago, it poured $15,000 into his campaign. With the current restrictions, the union was only able to give Zaragoza $600.

But other law enforcement unions have contributed nearly $2,000, and Zaragoza will probably get the backing of statewide public safety groups on independent slate mailers, Buckley said.

Flynn said the sheriff and his deputies opposed him in previous campaigns with no success. The supervisor said the union group was angry that he voted, along with other board members, to deny deputies a larger pension.

"I like the cops but sometimes you have to say no. And I said no. That's what this is mainly about," Flynn said.

Flynn is receiving donations from longtime supporters in his district, as well as cash from developers and business owners.

Zaragoza, meanwhile, is getting a big boost not only from police unions but from his own family. His list of contributors includes many Zaragozas and Acostas, all of them relatives.

The third-generation Oxnard resident said the contributions showed his deep roots. His grandfather immigrated from Mexico to the city more than 100 years ago, he said.

"They really want me to win," said Zaragoza, estimating he had close to 100 family members in the area. "They were supportive in my last two City Council races too."

Flynn said he was taking it all in stride. The notoriously fiery supervisor said he was ready for the battle.

"I relish a good campaign. It's kind of like a game in a way in outsmarting the other candidates," he said.

"There has to be some fun in it after 27 years."

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