Voters in Orange County's municipal elections appeared to rack up a number of firsts Tuesday, with early returns indicating Orange would get its first female mayor, Santa Ana its first Latino mayor, and Anaheim its first Latino councilman.
And in a surprise development in Fullerton, one of three councilmen ousted in a June recall election was heading for a reelection victory.
Because of term limits and the large number of veteran politicians stepping down, voters had an opportunity to give local politics a new face.
Community volunteer Joanne Coontz, who in 1986 became the first woman to win a council seat in Orange, seemed poised to become the city's first female mayor. She downplayed gender as a factor in the race, saying that "I haven't even thought about it. I just want to be a good mayor."
In Anaheim, Lou Lopez appeared headed for a seat on the council. If elected, he would be the first Latino to win a council seat in a city where 31% of the 290,000 residents are Latino.
"I'm an American of Hispanic descent, and I want to be a positive role model for the whole community," Lopez said.
The Santa Ana council race featured the largest field of candidates in city history. Among them was Miguel A. Pulido Jr., who was trying to become the city's first Latino mayor, and was ahead in the balloting.
"I care about the city," Pulido said. "I have my business here, my home here, and I'm prepared to do the job we need done. We have a long way to go, but i'm ready to work on that."
The Santa Ana mayor's seat became vacant when longtime Mayor Daniel H. Young, like many of his political peers in Orange County, opted to step away from the political limelight. Nine additional candidates jockeyed for three open council seats, bringing the field to 17.
In Fullerton, Don Bankhead, one of the three council members ousted in the June recall election after voting for a 2% utility tax, was ahead. "The people who really care about Fullerton realize that they have been misled," he said.
Voters in Orange also had a wide choice of candidates--13 in all--for two council seats and the post of mayor. Coontz's opponents for mayor included Juan Pablo Serrano Nieblas, a self-described shaman, and Fred L. Barrera, a five-term council member and co-founder of the Orange National Bank.
In Garden Grove, one-term Mayor Frank Kessler decided not to run for reelection, citing frustration with council in-fighting. In the race to succeed him, Councilman Ho Chung, an insurance agent, appeared to be losing his quest to become the county's first directly elected Asian American mayor. Councilman Bruce A. Broadwater staked out an early lead in the race.
Twelve other candidates vied for two council seats, including incumbents Mark Leyes and Robert F. Dinsen, who appeared headed for reelection.
Incumbent Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly faced a challenge from community activist Curtis A. Stricker.
Four of the seven seats on the Newport Beach council were up for grabs, and a new face on government was assured by the city's two-term limit.
New blood was also the theme in Huntington Beach, where a near-record 22 candidates ran for four seats, among them only one incumbent, Ralph Bauer, who was leading all vote-getters. Not since 1966, when 27 candidates were on the ballot, had so many sought election to the seven-member council.
The La Habra council race was marred by violence against one of the five candidates running for two open seats. Civic activist Dorothy May Rush, known for her outspokenness against gangs and crime, had her home firebombed and then shot at.
"The time to just tolerate gangs is over," said Rush, who was leading in early returns. "It is now time to do something about it.
Laguna Beach also underwent change. Incumbent council members Robert F. Gentry and Lida Lenney, who helped shape the city's liberal politics during the past decade, did not run for reelection.
The only incumbent seeking reelection was Mayor Ann Christoph, who was in danger of being ousted.
In Westminster, Tony Lam, the nation's first Vietnamese American to win an elected office, was in a tough fight for a second term on the city council. Margie L. Rice, a Garden Grove school board member, and Craig Schweisinger, an incumbent councilman, held a slight lead over Lam.