Anaheim City Council fills vacant seat with first appointment since 1995

Outside Anaheim City Hall
An Anaheim council majority appointed Gloria Ma’ae to serve in District 2, at the City Council meeting on Sept. 14, 2021.
(Gabriel San Román)

Following the resignation of Anaheim City Councilman Jordan Brandman last month, a vote on who would replace him took place during a Sept. 14 council meeting that at times proved contentious.

While serving a second term, Brandman stepped down in the wake of a scandal after derogatory comments he made in private text messages about his former council colleague Denise Barnes publicly surfaced on a local blog and were condemned as misogynistic.

“Like for most, there are periods in our lives when we are faced with competing career and personal priorities,” Brandman wrote in a Aug. 5 resignation letter. “For that reason I have decided it is in the best interest of me and my family to focus on them at this time.”

Anaheim’s charter allowed for council members to appoint a replacement within 60 days before calling a special election to fill the vacancy. Ten candidates applied to represent District 2 on the city’s west side by the Sept. 8 deadline and later addressed the council with their aspirations.

Gloria Ma’ae, a retired UPS employee and 42-year resident of the district in Anaheim, spoke about how growing up in Santa Ana with Mexican immigrant parents motivated her involvement in the community.

Ma’ae listed various board and commission posts held on her application, including being the current District 2 chair of Anaheim First, a citywide group founded by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, Visit Anaheim and the Anaheim Community Foundation; Ma’ae also listed having been an advisory board member of the Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR) nonprofit.

Prior to the pandemic, Anaheim First backed Mayor Harry Sidhu’s pledge to invest $250 million in the city’s neighborhoods over 10 years. A council majority voted in 2019 to donate $250,000 to the group for the purposes of helping carry out a community assessment study.

“I firmly believe my experiences over the last 20 years of my life have prepared me for this moment,” Ma’ae said during public comments. “If I am selected, my priorities as an Anaheim City Council member follow my two decades of community activism. I will be a fierce advocate for neighborhood reinvestment.”

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Fred Sigala, Jr., a psychiatric nurse and also the child of Mexican immigrant parents, had been involved in an effort to recall Brandman before applying to fill the vacancy left by his resignation.

“I found that ideologies aside, the thing that most of my fellow residents seem to agree on is that we’ve been sorely lacking effective representation in our district,” Sigala said. “I would strive to bring the voices of District 2 here in a professional, respectful and productive manner while also bringing your collective vision for our city to District 2.”

After all candidates made their cases, the appointment process came under criticism from two Democratic council members. Avelino Valencia stated that he would’ve preferred more community outreach while colleague Jose F. Moreno questioned the fact that council members had to individually reach out to interview applicants.

“One of the things that’s an important ethic in searches is that all candidates are actually sitting and interviewed by the people making the vote together,” Moreno said. “This process was very difficult and very much counter to what I consider to be ways of being fair to all candidates.”

Sidhu opened the dais to nominations following Moreno’s comments. District 1 Councilman Jose Diaz noted his top two choices from the field were Phillip Wolfgramm, a real estate executive, and Ma’ae before nominating the latter.

Moreno took the opportunity to question Ma’ae about policies for the city’s west side during a five-minute round of council discussion.

Ma’ae didn’t specify any specific policies she either supported or opposed during her first response, but outlined the need to revitalize the Brookhurst Street corridor when she returned to the podium. Ma’ae opposed the official designation of Little Arabia, an enclave of Middle Eastern businesses along the corridor, as a pathway to doing so.

After initially nominating Sigala, Moreno noted he would abstain from the vote altogether and expressed his opinion that Ma’ae’s appointment seemed to be “pre-ordained.”

The criticism drew a sharp rebuttal from the mayor.

“This is one of the fairest processes we’ve been through,” Sidhu said. “This was completely a transparent process that we’ve done.”

A majority of council members voted to appoint Ma’ae to serve out the rest of Brandman’s term through November 2022 with Valencia joining Moreno in abstaining. The seat will be up for election after that.

Prior to her appointment, Anaheim’s seven-member council had been all-male. Ma’ae is only the second Latina to serve on Anaheim City Council, which is now at its most ethnically diverse since 2006.

Ma’ae is also the first member of the council appointed since 1995, when planning commissioner Tom Tait, who later served two terms as mayor, was the compromise candidate chosen.

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