Temple City council seat filled by coin toss

Times Staff Writer

Regardless of how he eventually performs in his new job, newly elected Temple City Councilman Fernando Vizcarra has already earned one distinction that few other city council members can claim: He won because of a coin toss.

Friday’s strange tie-breaker came about because of a quirk in the state elections code that allows ties to be decided by chance -- although runoff elections are an option.

Vizcarra said Saturday that he would have preferred a runoff, but instead he left City Hall last week a councilman-elect, with a lucky quarter in his pocket.


When the city clerk finished tallying provisional ballots Friday, officials were in a quandary.

In an election for three open seats on the five-member council, Vizcarra, 64, a hospital administrator, and incumbent Dan Arrighi each had 982 votes. Temple City, a suburb in the San Gabriel Valley, has a population of about 36,000.

Vizcarra said he turned to City Manager Charles Martin, who is also the city attorney, and asked: “What happens now?”

Martin said, “I’m not sure. I think it’s a coin toss,” according to Vizcarra. The state code was consulted, and Arrighi was summoned to City Hall.

Vizcarra said Arrighi thought a coin toss was the best solution. Arrighi could not be reached for comment, but Vizcarra gave this version of events: A city employee produced a quarter and gave it to Arrighi. Arrighi tried to give it to Vizcarra to toss, but Vizcarra said he didn’t want to do it.

Then Arrighi handed it to a city employee and asked him to toss it. The employee shook his head, not wanting the responsibility. Arrighi then turned to City Clerk Mary Flandrick, who demurred, saying she was an election official and could not be involved.

After that, Arrighi tried to offer it to a sheriff’s deputy, who put up his hands, refusing to take the quarter.

Finally, city Public Services Manager Chuck Erickson took the quarter and tossed it in the air. According to Vizcarra, Arrighi called tails. “It came up heads. I won.”

Vizcarra, a former councilman who had lost reelection two years ago, expressed pleasure at the outcome. He said he would work to make the body more responsive to constituents and wants to revisit the issue of development, which some fear could change the character of town.

“This city is like a little bit of Ohio in the middle of Southern California, and we’re trying to preserve that,” he said.

Despite his opposition to the coin toss, Vizcarra said, “I will obviously keep that quarter for a long time.”