A roar erupted on Hotel Maya’s beachfront patio Tuesday night when the initial vote tallies were released by the county, all but assuring that Long Beach Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez had secured a resounding special-election victory to become the newest member of the California State Senate.
Her nearly 40-percentage-point victory, and the upcoming special election to fill her soon-to-be-vacated seat, have the potential to shift the dynamic on a City Council that has remained intact since 2014, the year Gonzalez was first elected.
Before Gonzalez first won the seat in 2014, she was a field deputy for then-Councilman Robert Garcia. His ascension to the mayor’s seat in 2014 and Gonzalez’s ascension to his council seat has meant that, for the last 10 years, the district has been represented by Garcia or an ally of his.
Gonzalez has been a dependable vote for a lot of left-of-center issues. She led the city’s efforts to ban Styrofoam, backed a policy that created a legal defense fund for undocumented immigrants and was one of two council members to vote against a controversial land swap that could lead to an expansion of oil drilling operations adjacent to the Los Cerritos Wetlands.
For a City Council that has become somewhat divided in recent years, whomever replaces Gonzalez could swing the balance of power, particularly if a more conservative candidate were to take the seat.
If the winner is more aligned with Gonzalez’s policies, it could mean a resumption of items aimed at social and economic equality, with the newest member of the council being the fifth and decisive vote on those issues.
But first, there needs to be an election.
When will the seat be filled
The Long Beach City Council can’t legally declare a vacancy until the state certifies the election results of Tuesday’s vote.
Typically, that process takes about 30 days, but Long Beach City Clerk Monique De La Garza said during a March presentation to the City Council’s Election Oversight Committee that the certification process is expected to be expedited to give candidates vying to replace Gonzalez as much time as possible to campaign.
After the election results are certified, the City Council will then have to declare a vacancy and start the process of the special election, likely to be done at the same meeting to maximize time for candidates. Candidates may be able to file paperwork sometime in July, depending on how quickly results are certified.
The election is expected to be run by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office and the cost of the election, paid for by the city, has yet to be determined. The last time the city hosted a special election was in 2015 when Daryl Supernaw won the 4th District race after Patrick O’Donnell vacated the seat to become a member of the State Assembly.
That election cost the city an estimated $175,000.
Candidates would not be able to file paperwork until after the vacancy declaration is signed by the mayor and processed, a timeframe that could take another 30 days. In the interim, the mayor will likely appoint a caretaker to address any constituent concerns; that person would not be able to vote on any agenda items.
The city charter stipulates that the seat must be filled within 120 days of the vacancy being declared, but an election is expected to be held in November, according to De La Garza. That means that candidates will have to operate on a compressed timeline in which nominating papers will be filed just months before a winner-take-all election is conducted.
However, some candidates have already tipped their hand.
As it became clear that Gonzalez, the presumed front-runner for nearly the entire special-election cycle, was likely to win, some residents of the district have hinted—in varying degrees—that they will run to replace her.
Ray Morquecho, a small business owner in the district, launched a website several months ago signaling his intention to run for the seat. Morquecho has worked on recent campaigns for councilmembers Stacy Mungo and Daryl Supernaw and ran Joen Garnica’s failed bid to win the 2nd District seat in 2016.
He identifies as right-of-center politically, but he declined to state a party preference, citing disagreements with portions of both Democratic and Republican platforms.
“I think I identify with a lot of Long Beach voters in the sense that I’m socially liberal but financially conservative,” Morquecho said. “I want to help people but I know that the money is finite.”
Another contender could be Mariela Salgado, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission. Salgado is a small business owner and was in attendance at Gonzalez’s election night party on Tuesday. A now-deleted Facebook post by another resident announced Salgado’s candidacy for Gonzalez’s seat earlier this year. Salgado said Tuesday that she was “likely to run.”
A third candidate is rumored to be Mary Zendejas, a long-time resident of the city who helped found the Professional Abilities Association of America/DisABLED Professionals Association and serves on the board of directors for Long Beach Transit.
Zendejas could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but multiple sources inside City Hall confirmed that Zendejas is likely to announce her candidacy soon and that her relationship with the mayor would likely result in Garcia, and possibly Gonzalez, endorsing her.
When Gonzalez was asked Tuesday night how involved she planned to be in the election to replace her, she said that she had already decided who to endorse and that once that person publicly declares their candidacy she would be behind them “200 percent.”
“I’m going to endorse someone, I’m coming out really hard for this person,” Gonzalez said. “I want a woman, a Latina, because at the end of the day we need more women on the City Council. I’m going to be unapologetic about it because I think we need more women representing us.”
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