AS IF YOU ASKED
I stopped trying to predict election outcomes years ago, mostly
because I proved to be a dismal failure. That’s why, as I did for a
column written on Burbank’s election day earlier this week, I stick
to citing “conventional wisdom.” It generally holds that incumbents
not in jail and those spending the most money will do the best.
Exemplifying the impossibility of predicting municipal races, on
Tuesday Burbank voters reaffirmed conventional wisdom in the contest
for two City Council seats and defied it in the race for three school
Dave Kemp, now a board member- elect, easily trounced all three
incumbents. He beat his non-incum- bent competition by ramping up his
campaign weeks before anyone else, in an organized and professional
race manned by a devoted band of grassroots supporters. All that
helped against the incumbents, too, but their self-inflicted wounds
were surely responsible for the huge gulf between his results and
Paul Krekorian, Larry Applebaum, Ted Bunch and incumbent board
member Mike McDonald will compete in the runoff election April 8 for
two more board seats. Bunch and McDonald have their work cut out,
because an analysis of voting results over the past decade shows
council and board candidates rarely improve their primary ranking in
the runoff. That is, if a candidate finishes fourth in the primary,
historically they emerge from the runoff in fourth. The good news for
Bunch and McDonald is that most exceptions to that pattern were in
school board contests.
Many district-watchers were stunned first-term incumbent Rich Raad
placed so far back in the pack. Board critics I talked to were
convinced that, if they could focus energies on defeating incumbents
Elena Hubbell and McDonald -- clearly entrenched and unbending --
they could live with giving Raad a chance to redeem himself in a
second term. With the benefit of hindsight, however, the outcome
Raad didn’t have the eight or 12 years in office his colleagues
had to build a following. When debacles of the past two years gnawed
away at the community support and relationships each has enjoyed,
Raad’s supply was consumed, while Hubbell and McDonald still had
years worth of reserves to call upon.
McDonald outpacing even Hubbell might lend credibility to longtime
theories that he can rely on avid support from members of the active
church he belongs to, and from those who’ve known him for years
through the football program he runs. Those passionate backers
carrying McDonald into the general election have to hope supporters
of the front-runners get lazy or take things for granted.
In the council race, appointed incumbent Jef Vander Borght was
done a great disservice by his friends and supporters. They were sure
he’d win outright in the primary by capturing 50% of the vote plus
one, and kept telling him so. Vander Borght never acted as though he
believed it, but deep down he had to hope all his friends were right.
Vander Borght’s first-place finish, with 48.8% of the vote, was
exceptional, a disappointment only when compared to the assumptions
of his fans. From their point of view, Vander Borght enjoyed the
benefits of incumbency, with voters also knowing him and his
abilities thanks to his 11 years on the planning board. The trouble
is, Vander Borght was appointed to the council (replacing a member
who resigned) less than a year before the election. He didn’t have
the four years of exposure incumbency usually provides.
And as for the planning board, I think Vander Borght’s circle let
themselves forget how few residents routinely pay attention to City
Hall in general, and to the planning board in particular.
If Vander Borght does for another five weeks what he did before
the primary, he’ll probably do well April 8. There’s no shame in
that, just work, worry and walking that he’d obviously rather have
been done with.
As for the other council candidates, I’m seeing some signs of
tension between the camps for Gary Bric, Brian Malone and Todd
Campbell, the three who followed far behind Vander Borght. This
council campaign has been one of the most congenial in memory, but I
guess I won’t be surprised if we start seeing a few elbows thrown in
the coming weeks.
COUNTING ON A PROBLEM
City Hall can be invigorating on election night. This year, there
were early fears the rotunda would be nearly vacant, but candidates
and their friends eventually turned it into a crowded community
event. Supporters of the successful Measure L, the bond initiative
for new libraries, were especially happy. After all, they’d dumped a
“big-time” campaign consultant who warned they were amateurs sure to
fail, and voters gave the amateur campaign resounding approval.
But the mood did turn ugly briefly, when frustrated poll-watchers
began to realize there was a problem in some numbers being issued by
the City Clerk’s office. To win outright in the primary, a candidate
needs to top 50% of the vote. As votes are counted, City Clerk
Margarita Campos periodically releases computer- generated
tabulations to the waiting crowd. Aside from vote totals, the sheets
include a column showing the percentage of votes won by each
On Tuesday, it was clear early on that the percentages shown were
misleading. Rather than show each candidate’s share of the total
number of voters, the column showed the percentage of total votes for
that office. For example, in an election with one voter, if the voter
casts votes for Tom, Dick and Harry for three open seats, each
candidate has earned 100% of the vote. But the figures Campos was
issuing would instead show each candidate having 33.3%.
This isn’t the first year this has happened. Former City Clerk
Judie Sarquiz ran the last municipal election using the same
software. But when concerned observers noticed the puzzling
percentages, Sarquiz and her staff started recalculating to give out
the percentage relevant to the election.
When observers raised the same question this year, Campos said the
percentage that matters is the one based upon the total number of
votes cast, not the number of voters. While his supporters believed
school board candidate Dave Kemp was guaranteed a seat with his 53%
of the vote, the clerk’s numbers showed he’d only earned 21.8%. A
Daily News reporter and I insisted on seeing the city’s election
ordinance, and the plain language clearly refuted the method being
But Campos told a skeptical crowd that she had to rely on the
election consultant hired to process the city ballots. She said he
confirmed her use of the numbers.
The dispute was resolved with the suggestion Campos check the
election results from 2001. That’s when council member Stacey Murphy
won re-election in the primary. She did that with votes from 57.9% of
those who voted, but only 21% of all the votes voters cast for all
the council candidates.
* WILL ROGERS’ column appears in every edition of the Leader. He
can be reached 24 hours a day at 637-3200, voice mail ext. 906, or by
e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.