ZORRO on SANTA ANA: Vote for Vince, Jessie, Laura, & the SAUSD incumbents!


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Election day is here in Santa Ana, and it just wouldn’t be right to not have Zorro article! This is perhaps the biggest election of our lifetime. It will determine the route of our country (kind of) and it gave birth to a new generation of political memes and cast of local characters. Old guards in this city are realizing their time is up and they are putting new faces into play to stay relevant. New faces are emerging, some with a new vision for the city others who are just software upgrades for old technology. Tonight some dreams will be realized, others will be crushed.

Let’s start with…

 The Santa Ana Mayor Election!

So many people want to be the next mayor of Santa Ana it’s ridiculous. Seriously, it’s not even funny.  Whoever becomes the new mayor will become the first new mayor in this since before the invention of the laptop computer. Mayor Miguel Pulido, also known as “The Small Dark Lord,” has been our local dictator since water became wet and folks are eager to finally get rid of him.

Let’s start with Ceci Iglesias. Ceci suprised everyone when she first ran for office as a school board member.  She had a grassroots base and was able to win. Then she proved to be a disaster. She is an anti- union, trump supporting, anti-immigrant right winger. Her homemade signs that look like they were created by the twins at the The Shining’s Overlook Hotel (see below for example!) She does have a bigger base of support than some of the other candidates and should be taken seriously as an opponent, especially since the democratic vote is split between Vince Sarmiento, Claudia Alvarez, and Solorio. She may actually win because of this split if one of those three cannot win with conviction.

The greatest thing about Ceci is her hatred of the Santa Ana Police Officers’ Association (SAPOA), which is odd because most republicans love their POA’s. In Santa Ana it’s the democrat candidates that love the police more than the republicans. The SAPOA is biggest contributor to local elections in Santa Ana. They funded the successful recall of Iglesias from city council and numerous other current candidates.

This brings us to Jose Solorio, whom many refer to as the ‘Latino Trump’ for his support of the ICE detention facility, love for the police, and impeccable wave of hair (not to mention popularity as piñata.)  Solorio has been caught up in all manner of campaign finance scandals including using donations to pay for the rent of an empty apartment he claims as his ‘residency’ in Ward 3. Solorio has received over $100,000 dollars in donations from the SAPOA and related PAC (Political Action Committees).

Jose also has a bunch of high school kids dropping off literature for him with little care packages all over the city.  Thanks for the wipees Solorio, but you might need them more to wipe off the tears from your cheeks if you lose. He is also pushing young school board candidate, Judith Carillo, and training her in the fine art of taking campaign contributions from the police.

Then there’s Claudia Alvarez. A prosecutor and former councilperson, Alvarez is supported by the more moderate Dems in Santa Ana. She has raised over $100,000 between her campaign and a PAC dedicated to her victory. From the looks of it, Claudia has been campaigning hard in Wards 3 and 1. Her signs and support can be seen all over the city as well. People remember her being on the city council and she has a huge political machine that is funded by the Teamsters, the Firefighters’ Association, and trade unions.

Keep in mind that if you are against displacement and for affordable housing Claudia may not the candidate for you. The trade unions such as the Carpenters, Electricians, and Roofers often sell out affordable housing in order to maintain project labor agreements. They recently stood silent when developers were allowed to pay their way out of affordable housing requirements. Claudia does have a lot of support from folks who remember her on city council and want to see a woman become mayor of Santa Ana. Claudia has gone all out in this election, even dropping off white roses for women voters. While memorable, we will see how far it actually goes with voters.

Next is Vicente Sarmiento. Sarmiento is the only candidate to receive the Democratic Party of OC endorsement. The Ward 6 councilman has been the lone dissenter on many issues such as letting developers pay their way out of affordable housing. He has not received any SAPOA money to the author’s knowledge and is instead backed up by the progressive wing of Dems in Santa Ana. Young people in particular have been drawn to Sarmiento’s popular message and branding. From what the author can tell he has been campaigning hard in Wards 2, 4, and 6.  

Vicente is like the Gavin Newsom of Santa Ana. Progressive, likeable, forward thinking, pragmatic and resourceful. He’s not batman, but more like Chicano Batman. He has a wealth of experience in governing Santa Ana from his years on city council and enjoys the support of many current local and past elected officials. He is also not stained with scandals like the other candidates. Sarmiento has proven to be someone who can work with many different political factions in order to get things done, and that’s something a new mayor is going to have to do in a town that has many political factions on the left and right.

Mark I. Lopez and some old white guy whose name is not important enough to remember are also running. Lopez has provided some comic relief on candidate forums while munching on sandwiches, cookies, and doing other random things in the background. That is about the best thing about him. Thanks for the laughs Mark but I don’t think you are going to win.  [Vern note – This Mark (not to be confused with Anaheim’s fine Mark Lopez) also loves to troll endlessly and repetitiously on Facebook – perhaps not a fruitful use of the final campaign days!]

Council Ward 1

What a circus this ward has turned out to be! What was originally thought as a shoo-in victory for Thai Viet Phan has now turned into a political shoot out complete with hit pieces, drama, revealed photos, spills and chills! The candidates are Thai Viet Phan, Cynthia Contreras, Tony Adamé and some other random white dude whose name doesn’t come to mind.

Cynthia Contreras is backed by soon-to-be-termed-out Miguel Pulido. This is indicative of what we have been seeing in local politics. A fading political old guard picking and choosing their successors. She’s not from Santa Ana and really represents another version of what politicians used to do in this city, which is move here for a while and then run for local office. (A lot like former councilperson David Benavides.) She has received money from the Chase family, a prominent developer friendly family, the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association PAC, and Automobile Dealer’s PAC. This is notable because the Willowick Golf Course is in Ward 1. Contreras is also working closely with Juan Villegas in Ward 5. Expenditure filings show they are paying the same people to drop literature for them at peoples’ homes in Wards 1 and 5. To be clear, Cynthia does have a record of paid community involvement, although mostly in other wards, particularly in Ward 6. It’s hard to say what exactly she has done in Ward 1 other than live there.

Tony Adamé on the other hand is a homegrown candidate who cofounded the Suavecito company.  Suavecito makes pomades, hand sanitizer, and other grooming products. Adamé is a born and raised Santa Nita resident with a great story. He’s also a political outsider who doesn’t come from the same pedigree that the other clone politicians do. Tony is enjoying a popular online following due to his business branding and does have a good message; however there are now pictures circulating online of him with Latino Trump supporters. His brother also donated $10,000 to a PAC that is funding hit pieces on his opponent, Thai Viet Phan.

The question is:  Has Tony fooled us all? Is he really a Trump supporter? Is he making profit off the same people his presidential candidate is blatantly oppressing or did he just make a bad decision? Either way this is solid proof that he is not the champion of Santa Nita he is making himself out to be.  At the end of the day he is still just a businessman. He has yet to actually clarify if he is for Trump, anti-Trump, or neutral on Trump. The decision-making we have seen from him here is indicative of how he will govern if elected. Let’s hope he learns from these mistakes if he becomes the next Ward 1 city council person.

Thai Viet Phan is the front runner in this election. She is an attorney and homegrown Vietnamese Santanera. She ran for city council unsuccessfully in last year’s special election against Nelida Mendoza. Keep in mind that this was a special election and it was also city wide.  Thai may be able to pull this one off because of the large Vietnamese population in West Santa Ana’s Ward 1. This would be a refreshing change in our city council and a huge win for the Vietnamese community that advocated for ward elections. Thai is not the radical she is being attacked for being by right wing PACs. She is much more moderate and but still not exclusively tied to the political machinery that many other candidates are connected to just yet.

Thai is a lot more articulate than the other candidates to be sure and carries a lot of experience.  However, her stances on development are questionable. She has openly advocated for market-priced housing to be built in the Willowick golf course area as long as affordable housing is included. This usually ends up becoming all market housing because the city council along with local trade unions allow developers to pay their way out of being mandated to build affordable housing units. She has also received campaign contributions from developers who have an interest in the Willowick development and PACs funded by the SAPOA. Thai is representative of a newer political faction of pseudo-progressive Dems like David Penaloza in Ward 2.

Ward 3

Ward 3’s candidates are Mark McLoughlin, Jeffery Katz, Danny Vega, Janelle Welker, and Jessie Lopez.

Grumpy McLaughlin & Katz!

Let’s start with Katz and McLoughlin. If Floral Park had a ‘Grumpy Old Men’ movie filmed in that neighborhood it would almost certainly star these two.  Both past presidents of the Floral Park Neighborhood Association, these two are splitting their own base of support which is allowing others to capitalize on the affluent white voter infighting.  To their credit, both of them have long standing relationships and community support in Ward 3. Any drive in Floral Park or Park Santiago shows lawn sign after lawn sign of both candidates.

What is of note is that Mark is openly taking POA support. He needs it because he has proven to be Mr. ‘Unelectable’ in previous elections. Oh no wait, that title goes to Bruce Bauer – McLaughlin is Bruce’s runner-up. If elected, I really expect them to look out for the sole interests if Ward 3 and can see the both of them selling every other ward out if it benefits their constituency.

Welker, and young Vega who is NOT for sale!

Janelle Welker is the Beatriz Mendoza of this election, so much that even Beatriz Mendoza is supporting her. In case folks don’t remember, Beatriz ran really unsuccessfully for school board in 2016 and then lost again when she ran for city council last year. Janelle’s whole campaign is a yawnfest that reeks of loss. That leaves Danny Vega and Jesse Lopez.

Danny Vega is a right-leaning grassroots candidate. He has been active in the past against the 2525 Development and against building new homeless shelters in Santa Ana. He runs the ‘Neighbors of Santa Ana’ Facebook page. Danny is not likely to win but has been an interesting candidate to be sure. He is almost like a young male version of Ceci Iglesias. One thing is for sure, according to Danny, he is NOT for sale.

Jessie Lopez has been extremely hard at work trying her best to get elected. A political outsider, she is part of a newer crew of candidates like Carolyn Torres who are not exclusively tied to the older political cliques in this city. She has the support of many young people who have been working tirelessly to get her elected. She also has the support of UNITE HERE, the hotel worker union and the Working Families Party. Given the Floral Park infighting and other lackluster candidates, Jessie might be able to win the election. She has been clearly outworking everyone else.

Jessie has been talking to voters, engaging the public, and has done very well in the candidate forums. The activist community in Santa Ana has been rooting for her similar to the way they did for Manny Escamilla in last year’s special election. Maybe this year will be different for the progressives.

Ward 5

Four candidates are vying for two represent Ward 5. Laura Perez, Vic Mendez, Johnathan Hernandez, and the incumbent, Juan Villegas.

Vic Mendez is a SAPOA hack whose campaign is being supported by a PAC called the People’s Committee for Public Safety and Transparent Taxation. He was an unknown prior to this election and is best described as a fiscal conservative. This PAC is funded by a shell company that receives funds directly from the SAPOA. We can only speculate as to why the SAPOA did not support Villegas, but it is very likely because Villegas did not support their raise. Villegas was also initially on the recall along with Ceci Iglesias but was dropped from the signature gathering when it was clear they were not going to be successful in recalling him. Mendez is likely not likely to win and is being run as a POA candidate to take away votes from Villegas as punishment for not supporting their raise. The POA already has majority support on council and losing one seat won’t hurt them.

Juan Villegas is in real danger of losing his seat. He was elected by an at-large election and the word on the street is that he lost Ward 5. He enjoys the support of the firefighters and various union PACs. Villegas is also not very politically sophisticated. His literature reads like an ad you might get directing you to a shady car dealership where Juan is drinking coffee in the trailer office waiting to sell someone a lemon. To his credit, Juan has done a few good things such as establish a Family Justice Center and he is taking credit for installing speed bumps in areas of Santa Anita. Additionally, he did bring some Covid-19 relief toward small business owners. The fact that the POA could not recall him also speaks to his real support in the Ward, particularly in the Logan neighborhood. Villegas is getting a lot of support from more moderate Dems and the few remaining republicans in Ward 5.

Next is Johnathan Hernandez, an Artesia Pilar resident, the candidate claiming he will introduce free internet access to the city. How he will do this is a mystery because he has yet to articulate how he will do it. Johnathan is supported by various trade unions and but did not get the Democratic Party of Orange County endorsement due to various scandals regarding his past behavior. Johnathan does have the support of Roman Reyna. If folks don’t remember Roman has been banned from running for office and was convicted of felonies for electoral fraud.

Roman supporting Johnathan is similar to Pulido supporting Contreras. It is simply an old political guard pushing a younger version of themselves down the throats of voters.  Hernandez, to his credit, has had a group of high school kids dropping literature for him and enjoys a popular online following. He has also fundraised a good amount of money and does have good stances on issues of public safety, rent control and investing in youth. Johnathan has also partnered with SAPOA-funded SAUSD candidate Oscar Reyes.

(The Felon Slate?)

Finally, there is Laura Perez, the only woman running in a male-dominated election. Laura grew up in the Ward 5 area of Santa Anita but now lives in Artesia Pilar. Laura ran unsuccessfully as a write in candidate against Mayor Pulido in 2014. She has the support of Carolyn Torres, Santa Ana Unified Trustee, who also lives in Ward 5. Laura did not seek the support of trade unions, outdated local politicians, developers, or the SAPOA. She has been running a grassroots campaign funded by community residents much like Carolyn Torres did in last year’s special election.

Laura is also supportive of rent control, sanctuary cities, affordable housing, and investing in youth. She is also openly supportive of small businesses and seniors. She is also advocating for a city wide Wifi program but has stated that she intends to partner with local school districts in order to make it happen. She is not tied to special interests the way all other candidates in Ward 5 are.

Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD)

SAUSD has six candidates running for three positions who have three incumbents running for them. The candidates are SAUSD Trustees Alfonso Alvarez, Rigo Rodriguez, and Carolyn Torres.  Their challengers are Judith Carrillo, Oscar Reyes, and Cecilia Aguinaga. David Benavides was also a candidate but dropped out before he could qualify for the ballot. Turns out he is smarter than he looks, he probably realized he would simply lose terribly like he did last year against Torres.

Little is known about Judith Carrillo other than that she is being supported by the loathsome Jose Solorio. She is a political unknown and it might be that Solorio is also pushing her as a younger version of himself for future candidacies the way Pulido, Reyna, and Valerie Amezcua are all doing. Her campaign signs are being funded by the same POA funded PAC that is supporting Vic Mendez in Ward 5. Her signs say that students support her but the author’s online search actually showed that the student organizations are supporting the incumbents. I could not find a single student group supporting Carrillo. So it seems she is really taking Solorio’s advice, in the lying department at least.

Cecilia Aguinaga is probably the most unelectable school board candidate in Santa Ana history.  If you notice, she has 5 different types of signs, all leftover from all the times she has ran and lost a school board election. Last year she failed to gain 1,000 votes despite the POA dumping $60,000 into supporting her. The best thing about her is her persistence, but I think Mark I. Lopez has a better chance at becoming mayor than Aguinaga ever has of being elected to the Santa Ana Unified School Board.

Then there’s Oscar Reyes, the candidate who is being pushed by Valerie Amezcua and John Palacios against their own colleagues. [Vern – not to be confused with Anaheim’s fine Oscar Reyes!]  John Palacios has been on the school board for over 20 years, due to lack of term limits. He is literally the Miguel Pulido of SAUSD and Valerie Amezcua is the Yolanda Saldivar of SAUSD. If you have ever watched an SAUSD board meeting, then you also know what it is to lose precious moments of your life listening to the long-winded, useless rants of John and Val. You would think that if these two cared about the community the way they say they do that they would choose to work with their colleagues instead of promoting an opposing candidate in the middle of a pandemic. In pushing Oscar, they are proving that they do not care about harming Santa Ana as long as it serves their political agenda.

Challenge to Reyes’ ballot designation; click for larger image.

Oscar has a good story but that is where it ends. He went to local schools, graduated from UCLA, and up until recently was a soccer coach for a youth program he started. He claims to be a businessman, which is true, he sells shin guards on the internet for a business. He was a substitute teacher for a year in SAUSD, but holds no credentials that would allow him to be a full-time teacher, just about anyone with a four degree can become a sub. He tried to lie about this in his candidate designation. His campaign originally premiered him a progressive, but his true colors showed quickly. His campaign has been full of attack ads against the incumbents, donations from developers, local sellouts, and directly from the SAPOA.

Oscar does not have the support of young progressive community in Santa Ana – he’s basically David Benavides Jr. His biggest campaign point is the potential deficit the school board may be headed into, however whether voters will trust an online shin guard salesman to solve that issue is a different story.  He is a young face time being promoted by the old political guard that has failed this city time and time again.  The real question for voters in this election is whether they really believe Judith, Cecilia, or Oscar can do a better job governing our schools than a teacher, social worker, and professor who all have advanced degrees and more real-life experience in education than the opposing candidates combined.

Now let’s look at the incumbents: 

  • Carolyn Torres, who was elected last year during the special election, is a middle school teacher.  
  • Dr. Alvarez is a veteran social worker with a doctorate degree in education
  • and Dr. Rigo Rodriguez a university professor and public policy expert.

They have all been navigating the school district well through the Covid-19 pandemic. While the city has been divided and lackluster in its Covid response, the school district has provided internet hot spots to students, created massive food distributions, and has piloted a ‘WiFI on Wheels’ program for students. Anyone watching an SAUSD school board meeting can see the articulate governing style of the incumbents. All three received the Democratic Party of OC endorsement. They are also supported by the Santa Ana Educators’ Association and Classified Staff School Employees’ Association. These are the unions that represent the teachers and school staff in SAUSD. A view of their social media pages shows a lot of support for the three incumbents.  They are also the newer board members – Rigo and Alfonso have only been on the board for four years and Torres was sworn in last December. Anyone wanting a real change in the school board should really be looking to dump Val and John in 2022. Those two have a combined school board reign of over 30 years.

This election has been full of surprises, political factions have been created, new versions of old politicians are emerging, new political powerhouses are beginning to form. This election’s results will could create a new direction for the city and its school system or it could just recycle itself with new faces run by an old, fading political guard. Could the next mayor be Ceci Iglesias? Could 2020 be the year Cecilia Aguinaga fulfills her lifelong dream of being on the school board? Is it time for Solorio to get his political velorio? Will we ever know what Mark I. Lopez was doing for the 10-15 minutes he disappeared from the candidate forum? Do we really WANT to know? Will progressives in Ward 1 ever stop fighting about whose candidate has taken the least dirty money? Will Katz and McLaughlin end up in an old foos gone wild street fight if they both lose to Jessie Lopez? We will likely know starting tonight and most definitely by Friday. Please go out and vote, God bless.


About Zorro

Yes, Zorro is gay. Zorro is gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10pm, a peasant without land, a gang member in Santa Ana, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student and, of course, a good government advocate in Anaheim. Zorro is all the exploited, marginalized, oppressed minorities resisting and saying `Enough'. He or she is every minority who is now beginning to speak and every majority that must shut up and listen. He or she is every untolerated group searching for a way to speak. Everything that makes power and the good consciences of those in power uncomfortable -- this is Zorro.