Setting up a fierce March primary battle, Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez this week is expected to become the second prominent Latino politician to challenge veteran Ventura County Supervisor John K. Flynn in the heavily Latino 5th District.
Lopez said Monday that he would make an official announcement midweek. The 76-year-old optometrist has been on the Oxnard City Council since 1978, serving as mayor the last 11 years.
“I enjoy being mayor, but as supervisor I would be able to help people on a broader scale,” Lopez said.
The only other announced challenger to Flynn, Oxnard Councilman John Zaragoza, was surprised to learn of Lopez’s plans. In a meeting last winter, he said, Lopez agreed not to enter the race. Lopez has not called to discuss his candidacy, Zaragoza said.
“I’m shocked, but I’m not upset. Everybody has a right to do what he thinks is correct,” the businessman said.
Lopez remembers the meeting differently. He says he told Zaragoza that he had not made up his mind. “He got very upset and left the meeting,” Lopez said. “I have witnesses.”
Lopez believes his entering the race could raise the stakes considerably in the upcoming campaign, making it more difficult for Flynn, 70, to hang on to his seat.
Lopez, perhaps the most powerful Latino politician in Ventura County, says he has the credentials and name recognition to tap into Flynn’s liberal political base.
And by splitting the vote in the March primary, his candidacy would increase the likelihood that Flynn would be forced into a runoff election, Lopez said.
If Flynn does not win at least 51% of the March vote, he and his top challenger would face off again in the November 2004 election. The higher voter turnout for the presidential election could help a challenger beat the incumbent, Lopez said. “The only way that any challenger would have a chance to get in would be in November,” he said.
Many believe Flynn may be in for the fight of his political life. Though he has cruised to victory in recent elections, the temperamental Flynn’s run-ins with a handful of Oxnard Latino leaders in recent years has angered some activists.
Critics accuse Flynn of acting like a political boss, punishing those who go against him. And they say he reneged on his pledge not to run for a record eighth term.
On Monday, Flynn said he’s not worried about Lopez entering the race. He’s been getting positive reaction from constituents as he walks precincts, the supervisor said.
“I don’t want to sound like I’ve got everything in the bag, but I think I can still win it in the primary,” he said.
Flynn said that his spats with Latino leaders have been exaggerated and that voters will reelect him because of his experience and accessibility.
He noted that nothing ever came of a well-publicized police complaint filed by Lopez’s wife, Irma, last summer, alleging that Flynn had shouted, “I’m gonna get you!” at a Democratic political function.
“The whole thing with Irma was overblown,” Flynn said. “I didn’t even go to confession because I didn’t do what she said I did.”
Lopez said he would give details of his campaign platform Wednesday. He promised to stick to the issues and refrain from negative campaign tactics.
“What elections are for are for the candidates to provide alternatives to the voters,” he said. “If you are able to convince voters your alternative is good, you will win.”