3 Democrats Bid for Party Chair in Heated Contest


After a tumultuous two-year reign, Irvine attorney Jim Toledano will attempt to win reelection tonight to another term as chairman of the county Democratic Party. It won’t be easy.

Having barely escaped being ousted from his post last year, Toledano now faces stiff opposition from rival candidates Jeanne Costales of Lake Forest, the party’s former vice chair, and Margaret (Meg) Robinson of Santa Ana, an intermediate school science teacher and current vice chair.

Some party observers predict Toledano won’t be able to survive another challenge as the party’s 52-member central committee votes on its leader for the next two years. There are 418,000 registered Democrats in the county.


Toledano touched off a controversy after the March primary when he accepted a $10,000 campaign contribution on behalf of the party and spent it--without authorization from other party officials--on a mailer backing Jim Prince, a candidate in the 46th Congressional District.

Prince wound up finishing third behind Loretta Sanchez, who went on to gain national attention by defeating Rep. Robert K. Dornan and is currently the only Democrat holding any partisan office in the county.

Toledano, who said he did nothing other party chairs haven’t done frequently in the past, said the uproar was fueled by those out to get him. He accuses local labor unions.

The contest for party chair “is a fight for the soul and the future of the party,” said Toledano, 52, of Costa Mesa. “We need a chair who will reach out and work with all Democrats. We must send a strong message to those who would divide us that they will not prevail.”

But his rivals are considered strong.

One of Toledano’s most consistent critics has been Costales, who resigned her post as party vice chair in protest when Toledano survived the storm over the campaign contribution.

“It was a matter of ethics at the time,” said Costales, a former school board member in her native Ohio who many say is favored to win Monday. “I had lost faith in his leadership.”

Costales said her qualifications include “leadership and fund-raising expertise” based partly on her success as originator and first chair of the Truman Award Dinner, a party event that has raised $62,000 in its two years of existence.

“I have a broad base of support in this party,” Costales said. “We need to extend our outreach, bring in new party members from central Orange County and work with the college campuses. . . . Families, education and job support are my issues and those have been the issues of Democrats all along.”


Robinson, who teaches at Spurgeon Intermediate School in Santa Ana, was elected by the committee to replace Costales as vice chair after her abrupt resignation.

She has been co-chair of the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club, a gay and lesbian group, for the past three years.

“I feel that, working as chair of the club, I have a good background of working at the grass-roots level,” said Robinson, 46, a native of New York. “We have been very effective in getting people elected working on campaigns, doing outreach to other groups. I think that’s what the central committee needs to do.”

She refuses to directly criticize Toledano, calling the dispute last year “a past issue as far as I’m concerned.”

Ray Cordova of Garden Grove, the regional director of the state Democratic Party, said the race is between Costales and Robinson, with Toledano “not really a player in this thing.”

He also scoffed at Toledano’s claims that the unions were out to take over the party.

“I don’t see any move by organized labor to try and take over. But if organized labor wanted to take over, by God they would,” Cordova said.

Toledano, in his letter to party officials asking for their support, said he is “proud of what we have been able to do” during his term and suggests his success rests on their acknowledging he is the one independent candidate in the race.

“I am seen in this county as one Democratic leader who is not a captive of any interest, willing and able to stand up for what he believes,” Toledano said.

The committee meeting, which is open to all Democrats, is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the local carpenters union hall, 1918 Chapman Ave., Orange.