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5 candidates for O.C. Supervisor blaze a campaign trail before March 9 special election

Candidates for an open 2nd District seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors
Candidates for an open 2nd District seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, from left, are Kevin Muldoon, Janet Rappaport, John Moorlach, Katrina Foley and Michael Vo.
(Collage by Sara Cardine)

With a March 9 special election for an Orange County Board of Supervisors seat nearing, five contenders are attempting to distinguish their candidacies and convince voters they have what it takes to lead the county through and beyond the pandemic.

Some are drawing on their past and current experiences as elected officials at the municipal, county and state level, while others lean on professional backgrounds in finance, law and business to exercise the discernment they would lend to the role.

Still others have peppered into their campaign biographies aspects of both.

And while the seat is nonpartisan, a battle has been brewing between conservative candidates — whose election would maintain the Republican 4-1 majority held before Michelle Steel left her 2nd District post for the U.S. House of Representatives — and Democrats gaining a foothold as Orange County politics shift from red to purple.

Whoever is elected has only until the term expires in 2022 to demonstrate his or her acumen. But the enormous responsibility of balancing a $7.5-billion budget and overseeing an 8,000-employee workforce comes with added pressure as supervisors oversee the county’s COVID-19 response and vaccine distribution.

Voters in the special election will be asked to select from among five candidates.

Former state Sen. John Moorlach, who served as a District 2 supervisor from 2006 to 2015, is backed by the Republican Party of Orange County and running alongside conservative challengers Newport Beach Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Muldoon and Fountain Valley Mayor Michael Vo.

Janet Rappaport, a Corona del Mar international tax attorney running a nonpartisan campaign, has thrown her hat into the ring with Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley, who’s earned the endorsement of the Democratic Party of Orange County.

Though their backgrounds and affiliations vary, candidates interviewed by the Daily Pilot roundly agreed steering the county through the coronavirus pandemic and ensuring schools and businesses reopen safely would be a top priority.

Mayor Katrina Foley in front of Costa Mesa City Hall.
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley is one of five candidates for an open seat on the Board of Supervisors left vacant by Michelle Steel.
(File Photo)

Foley, whose campaign has so far raised $392,000, said she would support staffing COVID-19 vaccination centers around the clock so residents could receive doses as quickly as possible. She’d also explore the possibility of offering rent relief for businesses forced to close during the pandemic and expanding small business grant opportunities.

“I will be working directly with mayors and city representatives to support the needs of our cities,” she said in an interview Thursday. “That’s what the county government is supposed to do.”

Foley has been an ardent supporter of mask wearing and following state guidelines during the pandemic, helping institute a citywide mask mandate in Costa Mesa, and said she’d bring the same focus on following protocols to the boardroom.

She remains a vocal critic of the current Board of Supervisors, whom she said set county residents back in the early days of the pandemic by questioning the seriousness of the coronavirus and failing to plan and prepare for a public health crisis.

Newport Beach Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Muldoon is running for the Orange County Board of Supervisors in a March special election.
Newport Beach Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Muldoon planned to run for the District 2 seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors in 2022 but moved plans ahead when the seat became vacant in November.
(Courtesy of Kevin Muldoon)

Muldoon, a former Orange County deputy district attorney who worked under President George W. Bush in the Office of Strategic Initiatives, shared his campaign priorities in a Jan. 29 interview with the Daily Pilot, saying he would work to reopen the economy in a safe manner and with guidelines in place, and assist healthcare professionals however possible.

“I’m very much dedicated to the wellness of this community for the long term,” said Muldoon, whose served on the Newport Beach City Council for six years.

He also highlighted his strong support for law enforcement and working with county and local leaders to address issues related to homelessness.

Like Foley, Muldoon previously planned to run for the Board of Supervisors in 2022, when Steel’s term was to expire, and so has been fundraising since 2019. Searchable financial disclosure records maintained by the Orange County Registrar of Voters show he’s so far raised more than $288,000 in monetary and nonmonetary donations.

Fountain Valley Mayor Michael Vo is one of 5 candidates for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
Fountain Valley Mayor Michael Vo is one of 5 candidates running in a special March 9 election to fill the 2nd District seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, left vacant by Michelle Steel.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

A financial planner who reported raising some $100,000, Vo emphasized the importance of making sure all Orange County residents, including veterans, the elderly and disabled and those who may not speak English, have equal access to the resources and assistance available.

Vo said when he heard from a constituent who lacked the technology to register for a vaccination through the county’s Othena.com app and had no transportation, he worked with city officials to create a walk-in assistance program at Fountain Valley’s senior center that offers cab rides to vaccine appointments.

A former refugee who fled communist-held Vietnam as a teenager in 1980, Vo said he worked with county officials to see that information about COVID-19 recommendations was available in Vietnamese and Spanish and believes in following guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There are many schools of thought, but I will follow the CDC’s position with respect to COVID-19 or anything else that might come to us,” he said during an interview Friday.

Some candidates leaned on their backgrounds in finance and law as evidence they would be able to manage the county’s disbursement of funds and federal CARES act money.

John Moorlach, a former state senator and Orange County supervisor
John Moorlach, a former state senator and Orange County supervisor, is one of five candidates for an open seat on the Board of Supervisors left vacant by Michelle Steel.
(Courtesy of John Moorlach)

Moorlach, who beat Foley in a March 2020 primary race for reelection to his seat in California’s 37th Senate District but lost in November to challenger Dave Min, recalled successfully steering the county through Chapter 9 bankruptcy in 1994 after being tapped as treasurer.

He said in an interview Friday while he supports coronavirus protocols and would likely wear a mask at board meetings, he believes the state went too far mandating closures that impacted Orange County residents.

“There was an incredible overreaction — why is someone 431 miles away dictating what is done here?” he said of Gov. Gavin Newsom. “A lot of us rebelled when he closed the beaches.”

A fiscal conservative, Moorlach balks at candidates who try to spend their way out of a crisis and said he believes county officials have done as good a job as possible, given unprecedented circumstances.

Moorlach’s campaign representatives report the candidate has so far raised $320,000 with pledges for an additional $15,000 to $20,000 due in.

Janet Rappaport is running as one of five candidates for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
Janet Rappaport, a Corona del Mar attorney is running as one of five candidate in a March 9 special election for the 2nd District seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors left vacant by Michelle Steel in January.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

A Corona del Mar tax attorney who graduated from Stanford and served in the U.S. Navy Reserve for 11 years, Rappaport has spent more than three decades helping public companies with risk analysis, financial reporting, contract negotiations and planning.

Also interviewed Friday, Rappaport said she believes county residents need supervisors who will be transparent about their spending and focused on coordinating funding and assistance across the county’s 34 cities, something the current board has failed to do so far in its distribution of $544 million in CARES Act funds.

“If the board were running appropriately, those funds would be posted weekly, as soon as they went out the door,” she said, referring to the board’s refusal to disclose line-item spending. “A lot of people are frustrated with the Board of Supervisors, the whole rollout of the vaccine and the misuse of taxpayer dollars.”

Acknowledging her status as a political newcomer, Rappaport has raised about $25,000 since declaring her candidacy Jan. 25 and is working with a handful of volunteers to make her views known and stand out as a candidate.

With less than three weeks to go until the special election, Rappaport and the other four candidates are working furiously to get out their messages and encourage turnout before the final ballot is cast on March 9.

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