Both sides knew that the special election for the 7th District seat on the Long Beach City Council would be decided by the most successful get-out-the-vote effort--GOTV, as campaign consultants call it--on election day.
“I’ve never seen a more aggressive GOTV,” said Councilman-elect Mike Donelon of his own flying squad of 70 poll-watchers and canvassers, who handed him a solid win over Tonia Reyes Uranga on Tuesday.
Armed with lists of probable Donelon supporters, volunteers kept track through the day of who had voted and who had not, then gently prodded the non-voters into action.
The effort was successful enough to turn what had been a virtual tie in last June’s runoff election into an easy win for Donelon in a race that some observers saw as a fight to determine the philosophical direction of the City Council. Unofficial final results showed Donelon winning 57% of the vote, Uranga 43%.
Donelon, 42, a general contractor, is expected to join forces on many issues with conservative Councilmen Douglas S. Drummond, Jeffrey A. Kellogg, Jerry Shultz and Les Robbins.
Drummond, Kellogg and Shultz were part of a jubilant crowd of Donelon supporters Tuesday night in a Long Beach restaurant watching the vote counting on a giant television screen.
Uranga’s troops had some GOTV of their own, of course, with volunteers visiting and telephoning supporters. But they encountered a bit of resistance, volunteers said. “There was a certain level of crankiness from all the repeat phone calls,” said one Uranga supporter.
Uranga and a persistently upbeat crowd of supporters at her storefront campaign headquarters sifted through the results for a silver lining.
“My whole campaign was about voter education,” said Uranga, 40, an employment and training consultant who positioned herself as a progressive. “The education people got was that, if people don’t get out and vote, this is what happens. But we found a lot of fresh, innovative people who had never worked on a campaign before.”
The special election, which cost the city about $65,000, was also a test of sorts for City Clerk Shelba Powell and her staff. The June runoff was marked by numerous irregularities, including the sudden appearance of a batch of uncounted absentee ballots after Uranga had been certified as the winner. The new ballots gave Donelon a two-vote lead.
Donelon held the council seat for 79 days, until a Superior Court judge found in October that there were enough flaws in the election to void the result.
On Tuesday, Powell had a staff of 58--about one worker for 87 ballots--counting the votes. The tally went off without any apparent hitches.
In his campaign, Donelon portrayed himself as an incumbent by virtue of his brief tenure on the council between July and September. Some groups who had endorsed Uranga the last time, such as the Long Beach Firefighters Assn., went for Donelon this time, citing his achievements on the council.
But the deciding factor, Donelon said, was Uranga’s court challenge of the June result, which had given Donelon the two-vote margin out of almost 6,000 votes cast.
“I think the lawsuit hurt her more than they expected,” Donelon said. “A lot of voters felt they were footing the bill for all of this.”
Uranga, who suggested that she would run again for the seat in 1998, said the outcome was determined by a widespread perception that Donelon was a fresh face on the council.
The special election came “smack in the middle of his honeymoon period” as a councilman, Uranga said.
And it was a special hardship for her supporters, she said.
“A lot of my support came from working people with families and two jobs,” she said. “And we were asking them to come out and vote in a race in which they had already voted twice.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
LONG BEACH CITY COUNCIL
100% Precincts Reporting Votes % Mike Donelon Tonia R. Uranga 2,193 43