Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price with supporters. Featured photo by Asia Morris.
Half of the Long Beach City Council seats up for grabs Tuesday night were decided early in the evening as Vice Mayor Rex Richardson and Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price easily retained their seats, however, their colleagues in the Fifth and Seventh districts appear primed for a runoff election in June.
With 80 percent of the vote for Richardson and 78 percent of the vote for Price the incumbents successfully avoided any kind of adversity in Tuesday night’s election as the initial ballot counts released by the city clerk’s office showed a healthy lead that they never relinquished.
“I think it speaks volumes about what the people who are voting think about the progress we’ve made,” Price said. “Elections are like a report card and I feel very proud tonight because I think people are recognizing how hard I work and that I’m not afraid to disagree with people which I think is sometimes refreshing when it comes to politicians. I’m proud that I can be who I am and the voters appreciate that and would like it for another term.”
Vice Mayor Rex Richardson (left) and newly elected LBCCD Board of Trustee Uduak-Joe Ntuk (right). Photo by Stephanie Rivera.
Richardson touted the progress made in North Long Beach over his first four years in office including the opening of the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library, the reinstitution of Rescue 12 and the economic investments made along its major corridors. But he also pointed to the voter engagement in North Long Beach, something that helped propel him and college board candidate Uduak-Joe Ntuk to victories Tuesday night.
“North Long Beach voters have been taken for granted for a long time but people acknowledge the work that’s happening in North Long Beach, voters are showing up and turning out and there isn’t this great divide between North Long Beach and Bixby Knolls anymore,” Richardson said.
Those two communities were part of the historic vote that saw Ntuk unseat 16-year incumbent Jeff Kellogg from his position as the Area 1 representative on the Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees. Ntuk, who narrowly lost to current Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education President Megan Kerr in 2014, said his victory is a sign that voters wanted the needs of the community to be met.
“They want a representative that meets their needs today,” he said. “It’s not every day that you unseat a four-term board president from a major community college. It doesn’t happen every day. It’s really a testament to the community working together in a broad coalition that frankly talked about issues that mattered: bus passes for students, high school students earning an AA degree and a diploma at the same time, restoring our vocational training programs. These are things that we care about that would make an actual difference in everyday lives.”
Wednesday morning, LBCC Superintendent-President Reagan Romali put out a statement thanking Kellogg and congratulating Ntuk for his election victory.
“We would like to sincerely thank LBCCD Board of Trustees President Jeffrey Kellogg for his 16 years of service to the students and staff of Long Beach City College,” Romali said. “He has seen LBCC transform through three bond measures, was there at the start of the Long Beach College Promise, and made the difficult decisions during tough budgetary times. We have all greatly benefited from his leadership and stewardship.”
Not all races ended Tuesday night.
Although unofficial, the vote tallies as of Wednesday morning showed the Fifth and Seventh Districts and the lone Long Beach Unified School District board seat on course for a June runoff election.
Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo held 48.5 percent of the vote as of Wednesday morning with her closest challenger, former Port of Long Beach Commissioner Rich Dines, pacing at 29.8 percent. Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga, with 47.9 percent of the vote, held a lead of 16 percent over challenger Jared Milrad. If outstanding ballots and provisional votes don’t push either incumbent over the 50 percent threshold both will be headed to a runoff.
“I think that we redouble our efforts,” Uranga said of the prospects of a runoff. “I think that the working men and women of Long Beach would come to my support. I think they would redouble my efforts. I think when it comes to the constituents they would redouble their efforts and talk to their neighbors.”
Challenger Jared Milrad speaks to supporters before finding out he would go to a runoff election for the Seventh District seat. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.
Milrad, who challenged the Uranga family which has held that council seat for over the last decade, said that he felt like he had been counted out before the campaign started but he remains confident that the district wants a new voice.
“Ultimately I think we will be successful because we have a campaign that has support from places we haven’t even seen from District Seven,” Milrad said. “If you look at this room there are many first-time volunteers who have never been involved in a grassroots campaign until this one and that just shows what’s going to be happening over the coming months.”
Mungo, who appeared confident that she could still win outright, or in a runoff, said that the neighborhoods have seen through some of the dishonest campaign tactics used by her opponents and have sided with facts, like the street repairs and investments made in the district over the past four years.
“That’s not what the Fifth District wants in a candidate, they want someone who says it like it is and is as honest as possible. People get frustrated because they want yes or no answers and a lot of things that happen at city hall aren’t yes or no.”
If she in fact heads to a runoff with Dines, where a large percentage of the electorate will likely show up due to statewide elections, Mungo said it’s going to boil down to proving her voting record and that the progress in the district is the truth.
“I think it will come down to facts,” Mungo said. “I spent all of my primary on telling the story of what we had accomplished and what we have left to do. If we go into a runoff we’re going to have to do some fact checking and prove to the people that the things that my opponents are saying are outright lies.”
About 1,700 votes cast for the two other candidates who would not join Dines or Mungo in a potential runoff could be up for grabs, plus any additional voters brought out by the statewide elections. Dines says he believes his message is important to all Fifth District voters and that he supports the expected influx of voters that will likely turn out in June.
“A runoff is a storng indication that residents are looking for a change from our current representative,” Dines said. “I look forward to working hard for the votes of the district.”
The remaining election that is poised to appear on the June ballot is the election of the only contested seat for the LBUSD Board of Education. That race will come down to Juan Benitez and Cesar Armendariz. Benitez came close to closing out the race Tuesday night with 46.7 percent of the vote, Armendariz placed second with 33.2 percent.
[Editors note: This story has been updated to include comments from Fifth District challenger Rich Dines.]
Jason Ruiz covers transportation for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or 951-310-1772.
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