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UPDATE: Incumbents retain seats on Santa Clarita City Council

Close race for third open seat

Posted: April 8, 2014 10:35 p.m.
Updated: April 9, 2014 12:29 a.m.

City Councilwoman and candidate Marsha McLean watches the election results with Jack Levenberg during an election part on Tuesday night. Signal photo by Charlie Kaijo.

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Santa Clarita voters returned two incumbents to office Tuesday following a long-fought City Council race, but the third seat’s new occupant remained uncertain late into the night of ballot-counting, according to unofficial results from the city.

Mayor Laurene Weste was the lead vote-getter from the start of counting at 8 p.m. Tuesday. According to the unofficial results, she finished with 5,822 votes.

Weste said she wasn’t ready to claim victory a little before 10 p.m., but she was encouraged by her lead and by the support of her volunteers.

And, she said, she’s ready to go back to work.

“We’ve got a Laemmle Theatre to build, and museums and the Saugus Library, along with a new Senior Center, more trails, and thousands of acres of open space still to be done,” Weste said during a noisy rally at her campaign headquarters.

“And we’ve got to beat that Cemex mine.”

She was followed closely by Councilwoman Marsha McLean, who tallied 5,363 votes, according to unofficial results from the Santa Clarita City Clerk’s office.

McLean could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Dante Acosta narrowly led another candidate, Alan Ferdman,  in the race for the third and final seat open on the council, which was vacated by long-serving City Councilman Frank Ferry.

“We’re just hoping it holds,” said Acosta said of the results Tuesday night. “We’re thrilled with the way it’s gone so far.”

Acosta led Ferdman by just 46 votes as of late Tuesday night, according to unofficial results from the city.

“I was hoping we would have a really clear decision who was first, second and third way earlier and then at least we could end up at the end of the evening and kind of have a good feeling about who won and who lost,” Ferdman said Tuesday night. “But right now it’s still a horse race and we’ll just have to wait until it’s over.”

Gloria Mercado-Fortine, Duane Harte and Maria Gutzeit finished behind Ferdman, according to the unofficial results.

The results from Tuesday’s election could still change as the city has approximately 950 provisional or vote-by-mail ballots that are still left to be examined, verified and counted according to city spokeswoman Gail Morgan.



Long campaign trail

It was an election that prognosticators struggled to put their fingers on as they and voters were presented with a selection of 13 candidates from a variety of different backgrounds and with wildly different levels of experience.

Tuesday’s vote was the culmination of a journey that began back in January 2013, when Mercado-Fortine became the first person to publicly announce her plans to run for City Council.

A twist in the campaign came the same month when Ferry announced he would not seek to hold on to the seat he was first elected to in 1998.

That created an open seat — a rarity on a City Council with traditionally well-entrenched incumbents.

It also opened the door for a litany of candidates who, rather than having to knock off an incumbent to join the council, could vie for a seat that was undefended.

Field

The candidates themselves ran the gamut, ranging from recognizable locals and political figures to virtual unknowns, and everything in between.

They ranged from incumbents running for re-election in McLean and Weste to local elected officials seeking to switch public office like Gutzeit, a Newhall County Water District Board member and Mercado-Fortine, a board member for the William S. Hart Union High School District.

Other recognizable names — Acosta, Ferdman and Harte — emerged as candidates as the campaign progressed.
Berta Gonzalez-Harper, a longtime resident and community activist, announced her bid in the summer.
Sandra Bull, fresh off an unsuccessful 2013 campaign for a seat on the Newhall School District board, threw her hat into the ring.

Dennis Conn, who has mounted several unsuccessful bids for council, signed on to run again.

Local pharmacy owner Moazzem Chowdhury was one of the last to file to run but threw financial weight behind his campaign.

Paul Wieczorek was another latecomer to the election as well, as was Stephen Daniels.

All total, the 13 candidates were the most in a Santa Clarita City Council election since 1998, according to information posted on the city’s election website.

Incumbency

This year’s election was, in some ways, typified by the same type of anti-incumbent sentiment that played a role in the demise of then-Mayor Laurie Ender in the 2012 campaign.

Whether it was public speakers at City Council meetings, posts on social media or a collection of people standing with a banner on a street corner, there were certainly those in Santa Clarita who wanted to see some new blood behind the council dais.

But despite those sentiments, the two incumbents appeared primed for victory as of late Tuesday night.

Process

The fill-in-the-bubble ballots were counted by machines starting at 8 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall Council Chambers as city workers sworn in to office for the purpose ran them through the machines.

About 20 city workers were involved in the process of sorting, checking and processing ballots. A roped-off area of audience seating was available for members of the public to observe the counting.

Precinct workers delivered ballots in secured boxes within a roped-off driving lane next to City Hall as a sheriff’s deputy supervised. Security outside the building was tight.

Signal City Editor Lila Littlejohn contributed reporting to this story.

Lmoney@signalscv.com
661-287-5525
On Twitter @LukeMMoney

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