Both candidates cautiously optimistic in razor-thin 5th District City Council race

Just 113 votes separate the two candidates for Council District 5 in East Long Beach, and the outcome could have significant consequences for the next mayor and the balance of power on the nine-member City Council.

Updated vote tallies are expected Friday. For now, establishment-backed progressive Megan Kerr has a slim lead over City Hall critic Ian Patton, and both say they are cautiously optimistic about their chances of winning. The most recent count shows Kerr with 50.5% (5,386 votes) and Patton with 49.5% (5,273 votes).

The Registrar has counted 10,659 votes case in the district so far, but it’s impossible to say how many votes remain to be counted. There were 14,873 votes cast for 5th District candidates in the 2022 primary election, and vote tallies in general elections usually exceed primary elections.

The next election results update is due Friday, Nov. 11, according to the LA County Registrar’s office.

While very close, the current 113-vote margin doesn’t meet the threshold for an automatic recount, according to the city charter. That would only happen when the margin between the two candidates is half a percent or less and there are 50 votes or less separating them.

Patton said he’d almost want the race to fall into automatic recount territory because that would “vindicate” him by showing city officials how the current recount system isn’t working.

Patton was behind efforts to force a recount after the passage of a measure to increase the Measure A sales tax indefinitely, which passed in 2020 with 16 votes. But the recount rule only applies to candidates, not ballot measures, and a judge ruled that Patton and the Long Beach Reform Coalition would have had to pay for the $240,000 recount on their own, a figure well beyond what the group could afford.

Patton said he has not thought about whether he would push for a recount if the final vote tally was still close but beyond the automatic recount threshold.

Kerr would not comment for this story, beyond a brief statement thanking her family, supporters and voters and saying her campaign is “grateful to have a small lead and looks forward to the remaining ballot counts.” Follow-up questions sent to her campaign team were not immediately answered.

She ran a confident, almost relaxed campaign, benefitting from a wide array of endorsements from Democratic Party officials, including Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, six members of the City Council and 15 labor unions. During their Long Beach Post debate, Kerr never criticized Patton.

“She acted like she was an incumbent,” noted Patton, who repeatedly criticized Kerr during the campaign as he ran against what he termed the “city machine.” Unlike Kerr, Patton had no support from well-financed independent expenditure committees.

Patton, who was endorsed by three former City Council members—including Water Resource Board candidate Gerrie Schipske—as well as Long Beach Community College Trustee Ginny Baxter, who also endorsed Kerr. He ran as an “outsider,” according to Cal State Long Beach political science professor Matt Lesenyie.

“People who are not happy with the establishment is a style that works well in elections,” said Lesenyie. “They’re always interesting in office: do they fall in line or do they rabble-rouse?”

That question could matter a great deal to the incoming mayor. At press time, Councilmember Rex Richardson, who endorsed Kerr, leads Councilmember Suzie Price, 53.4% to 46.6%.

Price, currently one of four more moderate members of the council, did not endorse either candidate.

Regardless of who becomes mayor, a majority of the new nine-member City Council is expected to support a progressive agenda. Even without the 5th District, councilmembers Mary Zendejas, Cindy Allen, Suely Saro, Roberto Uranga and newly elected Joni Ricks-Oddie are all Richardson supporters.

However on Sept. 21, Uranga suffered a stroke, and has been excused from every City Council meeting since then. It’s unknown when he will return, and his staff is handling constituent services while he recovers.

A Kerr victory in the 5th District would provide the progressive camp with five safe votes even with Uranga absent. But if Patton wins, that block of votes would drop to five with Uranga present and just four if he’s absent, setting up potential tie votes that could complicate any future mayoral administration’s agenda.

The mayor of Long Beach does not vote in City Council meetings, but has a powerful voice in setting the agenda.

Regardless of who wins the 5th District, Uranga’s continued absence from the council could result in a number of councilmembers having powerful swing votes, according to Lesenyie.

Race tightens to just 113 votes in 5th District City Council race

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Anthony Pignataro is an investigative reporter and editor for the Long Beach Post. He has close to three decades of experience in journalism leading numerous investigations and long-form journalism projects for the OC Weekly and other publications. He joined the Post in May 2021.
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