The decision of two supervisors not to seek reelection has offered Orange County the opportunity for a fresh start. Because of the large number of candidates, runoffs are likely in both races. Should that happen, the county will benefit if the two top finishers in each race use the time between the March 26 primary and the November runoff to spell out their visions of county government and how they would implement their plans.
It is unlikely that either seat would be open had the county bankruptcy not occurred. Gaddi H. Vasquez resigned, and an appointed successor is serving out the rest of the term. Roger R. Stanton, a supervisor since 1981, has decided to call it quits come January. Both realistically acknowledged that their prospects were slight because of voter wrath over the bankruptcy.
Supervisors Jim Silva and Marian Bergeson took office after the bankruptcy was declared and have been in office little more than a year. New faces at the County Hall of Administration can mean new proposals for government and a different look at how the county operates.
Although it is disappointing that more high-quality candidates active in good-government organizations or prominent in business did not seek the supervisors' posts, there are a number of good men and women in the running.
For the 3rd District seat, which Vasquez resigned, there are eight candidates. It is tempting to label this one as an "ABC race"--anyone but Conroy. Assemblyman Mickey Conroy is leaving the Assembly because of term limits; he's hoping to wind up on the Board of Supervisors. Conroy, whose Sacramento record is not impressive, has ducked most of the candidates' debates during the campaign, apparently hoping to bank on his name recognition rather than on facing the voters any sooner than necessary. In keeping with his low profile, Conroy was the only candidate not to accept an invitation to meet with the editorial board of The Times Orange County edition.
Our choice in the 3rd District is Susan Withrow, the able City Council member from Mission Viejo. Withrow holds a master's degree in public administration and would be the first South County resident to serve as supervisor in county history. She has correctly identified government's primary job as delivering services to residents; her experience would help in the debate over how the county and its cities should divide responsibility for services after years of incorporations that have resulted in a great lessening of county-administered territory. Other interesting candidates in the race include Todd Spitzer, a Brea Olinda Unified School District trustee; Charles W. "Pete" Maddox, a Rancho Santiago Community College district trustee; and Bruce Whitaker, a leader of the antitax Committees of Correspondence. A runoff between Withrow and any of those three could inform the public of possible new directions for the Board of Supervisors.
In the 1st District, Westminster Mayor Charles V. Smith is a veteran officeholder who is knowledgeable in lobbying for the cities of Orange County and for regional transportation projects. He was hurt by a jury finding that Westminster violated the 1st Amendment rights of its firefighters. One of Smith's opponents is Garden Grove City Council member Mark Leyes, a thoughtful, articulate candidate whose conservatism is of the thinking, rather than knee-jerk, variety. But questions over Leyes' residence, an issue that determines whether he is a legal candidate, need to be answered. In this race, the choice is less clear-cut, but Smith and Leyes are the strongest of the five candidates. Since a runoff is probable, we would like to see those two advance so that voters may hear more from them in the months ahead.