Topics : POLITICS : New Councilwoman Draws Controversy : The appointment in Carson of Mary Anne O’Neal to a vacant seat over the second-highest vote-getter in the election angers some African Americans.

Share via

As a planning commissioner, Mary Anne O’Neal reviewed meeting packets of information that were about an inch thick. As the newest member of the Carson City Council, the materials she wades through twice a month have expanded to three to four inches thick.

The controversy surrounding her grew with the workload.

It started only moments after she was appointed in May to the seat left vacant when Councilman Michael I. Mitoma was elected mayor April 12.

A crowd of residents milled outside the council chambers, shaking their heads and asking about the procedure for a recall.


Others lambasted the council for rejecting the second-highest vote-getter in the election to pick O’Neal, who has never run for office.

“This is the joke of the century,” resident Tommie Williams told the council. “You all are a total embarrassment.”

“Even though you think you’ve done a good deed for the community, I think you’ve made a mistake,” said Harold Williams, who is no relation to Tommie Williams.

But O’Neal’s supporters are equally vocal.

“She’s probably the most gracious woman alive,” said Mitoma, who appointed her to the Planning Commission and voted for her appointment to the council seat. Learning the ropes can take a couple of years, he said, but O’Neal’s comments during meetings reveal that she has been doing her homework.

Former Councilman John H. Anderson was appointed to a seat on the council in 1988. Remembering the criticism he endured, he offered his help to O’Neal, who will serve until the city election in April, 1996.

“From my experience, it was very difficult,” Anderson said. “There were many people who wanted someone else.”


The candidate many people wanted this time was Keith McDonald, part of United Voice, an African American political group that ran a slate of candidates. McDonald came in second to Lorelie S. Olaes in the April 12 election.

McDonald, son of Assemblywoman Juanita M. McDonald, was among the 11 people who submitted resumes to the council to indicate their interest in the vacancy. Although O’Neal is an African American, she was not a member of United Voice.

After O’Neal’s appointment was announced at the May 17 council meeting, Olaes abruptly left the dais. Olaes supported McDonald for the open seat and said the city should consistently choose the second-highest vote-getter to fill vacancies.

Olaes said this week she has known O’Neal for several years and that her anger wasn’t directed at her.

O’Neal supported Mitoma in the recent election, rather than his opponent, James H. Peoples, who is African American. Community members have suggested that Mitoma might be able to influence O’Neal because he chose her for the Planning Commission and voted for her appointment to the council.

O’Neal said she believes the anger in the African American community stems from the lack of success for black candidates.


“Since I did not run for office, there was some frustration,” O’Neal said.

The initial anger among some African Americans about the appointment may decrease as the community faces problems such as violence and community awareness, said United Voice President Walter Clark.

And friction among residents over how O’Neal got into office may decrease over time, Olaes said.

“A lot of the community will be taking a wait-and-see attitude, but I think they will be pleasantly surprised,” Olaes said.

O’Neal said she’s been trying to be a “good listening ear” for the city’s residents, but she also knows budget cutbacks will mean “having to do more with less.”

Right now she said she considers herself more of a community activist than a politician, but when asked about running for office in the next election, she answers like a seasoned politico.

“I will wait and see. It’s too early to tell,” she said.