Early election night results fueled by a historic early voter turnout has propelled Long Beach City Council candidates into substantial leads that could push future policy in a more progressive direction.
The infusion of new blood into the council will not only increase the amount of women on council to five, it will likely also tilt the balance of power toward a more liberal block of the members that will now have the votes to pass future policy with little help from those they’ve clashed with in recent years.
Cindy Allen and Suely Saro, both of whom ran to the left of their opponents, held strong leads Wednesday morning, with Allen maintaining a nine-point lead over Realtor Robert Fox, and Saro holding a commanding 17-point lead over long-time incumbent Dee Andrews.
Councilman Al Austin, the only incumbent on the ballot that appears headed to victory, appears headed toward reelection as he holds a 14-point lead over Tunua Thrash-Ntuk. Thrash-Ntuk, a political newcomer, bested Austin in the March primary and seemed primed for a strong showing on Election Night, but captured just under 43% of the vote as of Wednesday afternoon.
Thrash-Ntuk, like Austin, saw lots of money pour into her campaign, but also had the support of the state and county Democratic Party as well as three members of the council’s more progressive wing, Roberto Uranga, Jeannine Pearce and Rex Richardson.
Her win would have given women a clean sweep in council races and given the progressive faction of the council a commanding majority. Richardson said despite her loss, Tuesday was a “win,” noting that they were in a stronger position Wednesday than Tuesday, even with Austin’s victory.
“Yesterday the voters sent a pretty clear mandate,” Richardson said.
What that mandate will result in is unclear, but Richardson, largely seen as the leader of the more progressive council members, said that the issues he would support are those that would help working families, and address climate change and the inequities playing out across the city. He would also like to see police reform, including charter reform of the city’s Citizen Police Complaint Commission.
“I still believe in the vision supported by these progressive women,” said Richardson, who endorsed all three women candidates in Tuesday’s City Council elections. “Working families need champions right now.”
Pearce, who is leaving the council in December and looks likely to be replaced by Allen, who she endorsed, said that the women elected Tuesday night are policy people and would work hard to craft policy to benefit all residents. Replacing Andrews with Saro, another candidate she endorsed, is a step toward ensuring the needs of that district are met, she said.
Saro would also become the first Cambodian elected to the council.
While the new five-member core of the council would have the votes to pass policy on any given Tuesday, assuming it remains aligned, it would need a sixth vote to achieve charter reforms, which would be needed to meaningfully address changes to the CPCC.
This would mean the two factions will have to work together, but relations appear to have frayed on Wednesday after the election.
Richardson alleged that Austin had spent much of Wednesday morning attacking him on social media, with one since deleted post showing a 2012 Austin campaign photo of Austin, Richardson and Mayor Robert Garcia with a rat face emoji placed over Richardson’s head.
Austin also allegedly sent Richardson a text containing a video clip from the HBO show “The Wire” in which Omar Little, carrying a shotgun, stalks a wounded rival drug dealer.
“When you come at the king, you best not miss,” Little says in the scene.
Austin did not respond to requests for comment.
Members of the minority block that Austin will help maintain once he’s sworn back into office in December expressed gratitude that he had appeared to win his race Tuesday night. Councilwoman Suzie Price praised Austin and said he’s “the type of person I want helping make policies in our city” in a Facebook post Wednesday.
“Assuming he carries his lead in this race, the outcome shows that standing up and doing the right thing and being true to your values can prevail, not always, but every once in a while,” Price said.
Price was referencing a 2017 vote on a hotel ordinance known as Claudia’s Law that Austin joined in blocking in a 5-4 vote. The vote would have instituted workplace protections for hotel workers but Price, Austin and others who blocked it said that it was power grab by unions.
Councilwoman Stacy Mungo said that she looked forward to continued work with Austin, including an accelerated program for fixing the city’s streets. Mungo added that she was sad to see Andrews go.
“We are thankful for the progress he made for central Long Beach,” Mungo said. “New energy brings new opportunities and I’m excited to work with both Suely and Cindy.”
Working together hasn’t always worked out for this council, particularly on some of the more divisive issues like a failed housing bond, Claudia’s Law, and most recently an anti-tenant harassment ordinance that advanced without full support.
Councilman Daryl Supernaw said that the new council majority could very well result in policy being pushed through with little or no outreach to the full council. He said there have been a growing number of instances already where ideas of certain members have not been considered in crafting policy.
He noted that the current majority walked out, twice, when the vote against Claudia’s Law took place.
However, he expressed some optimism that there might not be certainty with how the new members might vote once they’re on council. Things are said and done during the campaign that might not necessarily reflect a person’s voting pattern, he said. Someone like Allen could end up the new swing vote, Supernaw added.
“What you see during a campaign is usually not what you get as a city council person,” Supernaw said. “Those campaigns are so volatile.”
For his part, Mayor Garcia congratulated all three winners during a media briefing on Wednesday.
“All three of them are going to be really great additions and continuations, in Al Austin’s case, for the city council,” he said.
[Editors note: If the results hold there would be five council women, not four. The story has been updated.]
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