It took a little less than an hour after polls closed for it to become clear that Mayor Robert Garcia had been reelected to a second term as the leader of Long Beach as an insurmountable lead of over 10,000 votes was revealed by the city clerk’s office first update.
That lead only grew as the night went on with Garcia eventually cruising to a 19,000 vote victory over challenger James Henk Conn, who despite being severely outgunned in fundraising, was able to secure over 20 percent of the vote total.
Garcia’s vote total of just over 26,500 votes made up nearly 80 percent of ballots counted as of Wednesday morning, the second largest victory margin of the night only bested by Vice Mayor Rex Richardson’s victory in the race for the Ninth District seat where Richardson secured exactly 80 percent support in his bid for a second term. However, Garcia’s vote total Tuesday night was about 1,000 less than he took in when be defeated Damon Dunn in 2014.
The mayor said that while they did expect to win, they did not expect nearly 80 percent of the vote total.
“I’m just very grateful to the voters for giving us an opportunity to continue leading,” Garcia said. “I love Long Beach, I think it’s been a great few years; unemployment is at historic lows, our homicide rate is at a historic low, investment is up, we have a great streets and sidewalk program. We’re looking forward to another term, but the work starts again tomorrow.”
The election night parties served as a microcosm of sorts for the entire campaign. Garcia’s party was hosted at the Hotel Maya with a crowd of supporters and Conn’s at Hot Java, just a few blocks from his home where a handful of friends and family watched the election results roll in on laptops.Conn, who remained optimistic through much of the night, was also resigned to his fate. He knew he wasn’t going to win, but he hoped that whatever his vote total ended up as would serve as a referendum on the political processes in the city.
“Whatever you want to call me, Joe Six-Pack, the common guy, the difficulties I had to go through, people will relate to it, they’ll see the conditions, they’ll bring about change and we’ll start looking differently at how we run elections,” Conn said.
He added that he hopes that this election will serve as an inspiration for others who wish to seek public office. He said his campaign may impact the way the next four years of governing unfold in Long Beach as forcing the mayor to run against somebody at least led to some questions being asked.
“If nobody ran against him people would’ve been assuming he was doing a good job,” Conn said. “I made everyone take a critical look at what that meant as him doing a good job and now he’s got to answer other than ‘Oh, nobody went against me, I’m so wonderful.’’
The number of people that took critical look in this election cycle remained small, with a minority of the city casting a vote Tuesday night.
A total of 33,563 people cast a ballot for mayor this election— with some provisional ballots still to be counted—nearly 20,000 less compared to the nearly 53,000 people that decided the race in June 2014 when Garcia was first elected to office. The difference in totals could be explained by Garcia’s first victory coming in a runoff election which coincides with statewide elections and has historically meant more turnout in city elections as voters show up in larger numbers to elect more powerful offices like United State senators and governors, both of which will be on this June’s ballot.
Only 13.4 percent of the 261,557 registered voters in Long Beach participated in Tuesday’s election continuing a trend of low voter turnout in the city. The number of people who elected Garcia to his second term is the fewest amount since 1998—also a April primary vote—when just over 35,000 voters helped elect Beverly O’Neill to the mayor’s seat. The share of registered voters is the lowest since 2010, when just 16.9 percent of registered voters reelected Bob Foster as mayor.
This will likely be the last primary held in April in the city due to a state law forcing Long Beach elections to shift to a March primary, November runoff model starting in 2020. Senate Bill 415 forced cities with non-concurrent election dates and a history of low voter turnout to shift its election model to coincide with the state’s. Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law last year the “Prime Time Primary Act” which moved up the state’s primary election from June to March in an effort to make California a more impactful state during presidential election years.