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Santa Ana Vote Means Little Has Changed

Times Staff Writer

All the hit mail had been delivered. The truth and half-truths had been told, and there were enough unearthed skeletons around to haunt a house.

But even after all that, despite all the rancor and just plain rankness of one of the most expensive elections in Santa Ana history, very little changed Tuesday night on the City Council.

One incumbent lost. That was Wilson B. Hart--but he lost to another incumbent, John Acosta. The two, who were once friends but have become bitter rivals, were placed in the same ward (Ward 3) by a redistricting plan earlier this year.

The city’s first-ever mayor elected by popular vote is Dan Young, who was already the city’s mayor, albeit only by virtue of a 1986 council vote.

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Vice Mayor Patricia A. McGuigan handily defeated two challengers, each backed by one of the city’s employee associations.

And Daniel E. Griset, a 7-year incumbent and former mayor whose father served on the council before him, made sure that the Griset nameplate would remain on the dais for 4 more years, defeating Rick Norton in a particularly vituperative race.

The net result is the same council minus one old face. With Hart gone, the council is likely to split right down the middle on many issues--Young, Griset and McGuigan versus Acosta, Ron May and Miguel A. Pulido Jr.--until a special election is held in the spring to fill the now-vacant Ward 6 seat. Young must give up that seat to take over as the elected mayor.

With 49.8% of the votes in his race, Young won a higher percentage than any of the other three victors. He defeated businessman George Hanna (35.3%), who spent close to $100,000 of his own money and was supported by the city’s police officers union. A third candidate, former school board president Sadie Reid-Benham, finished with 14.9%.

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Wednesday, the newly elected mayor of the state’s 10th-largest city was speaking in terms of conciliation and consensus.

“I don’t see a 3-3 split” on the council, Young said. “I see six who stand steadfastly for our redevelopment program, our neighborhood improvement program, who generally agree on our budget.”

Young admitted that some issues, such as ward elections and police pay, may not be resolved until a seventh member joins the council. “But when it comes to issues that make a difference, I think the council will have a consensus.”

Hanna sounded a different tone Wednesday. “I guess negative campaigning wins in Santa Ana,” he said. “I think the people of Santa Ana were the losers--they missed out. . . . But George Hanna’s not going to go away.”

Acosta, meanwhile, said he was elated by his victory over Hart, who had attacked him with mailers accusing him of judging a nude beauty contest, breaking city zoning laws and allowing himself to be influenced by criminals.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Hart went to such a low level of campaigning that it cost him votes,” Acosta said. “We chose by design to ignore that method of campaigning. We didn’t respond to anything, and it paid off.”

Hart did not return phone calls to both his home and office.

Acosta finished with 39.4% of the vote in his race, far more than either Hart (23.9%) or Joan Wilkinson (22.2%), who finished just 700 votes behind Hart despite being outspent by more than 10 to 1. Two other candidates in the race, Ronald A. Lark-Wallace and Robert C. Thomas Jr., finished with 8.3% and 6.2%, respectively.

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Acosta also happily pointed out that, although he was in a five-candidate race that included two incumbents, he finished with a higher percentage than did Griset, who faced campaign neophyte Norton and under-funded Laurel Ruth Stephens.

Griset won with 37.6%, while Norton, who operates a swap meet in Santa Ana, finished less than 2,000 votes back, with 33.1%. Stephens got the most votes per dollar of any candidate, finishing with 29.4% while spending barely $1,000.

McGuigan won 44.2% of the votes in her race, giving her the biggest margin of victory of all the candidates. Patricia H. Mill, who had the support of the Police Benevolent Assn., was more than 15 points back with 28.7%, while Zeke Hernandez, who was supported by fire employees, finished with 27.1%.


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