Huntington Beach City Council seats new conservative majority, votes Tony Strickland as mayor
The Huntington Beach City Council had a swift transfer of power at Tuesday night’s meeting, as four conservatives who won November’s election took their places on the dais.
Near the conclusion of a three-hour meeting featuring a raucous overflow crowd, they used their new majority to elect a mayor and mayor pro tempore for 2023.
Tony Strickland, a former state senator and assemblyman, is Surf City’s new mayor. Gracey Van Der Mark, a former planning commissioner and finance commissioner, is the mayor pro tem.
Strickland, 52, teared up during his remarks as he talked about his late father, a drill sergeant who became a maintenance man before passing away a year and a half ago.
“He gave me the example of what a man is really about, love of country,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege of serving in the state Senate, I’ve had the privilege of serving in the state Assembly ... but now I have the best privilege of my life. That’s being mayor of the best city on this planet, Huntington Beach.”
Strickland and Van Der Mark were selected for the leadership positions by 4-3 votes of the City Council, with each newly seated member representing the ayes. Pat Burns and Casey McKeon also were sworn in and seated on the dais after former Mayor Barbara Delgleize, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Posey, Councilman Erik Peterson and Councilwoman Kim Carr said their goodbyes.
Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates was also sworn in for his third term. State Sen. Janet Nguyen, a Republican who recently defeated Carr for the District 36 seat, handled the swearing-ins.
The four new council members, who campaigned together, each easily won the 18-candidate November election for the four vacant seats. They campaigned on the premise of a contract with Huntington Beach voters, which featured four tenets: giving Gates the authority to fight Sacramento’s housing mandates, a 90-day plan to combat homelessness, fighting crime with the Huntington Beach Police Department and city prosecutor and promoting business-friendly policies.
The final certified vote totals, released this week, had Burns with 37,266 votes, Strickland with 36,805, Van Der Mark with 33,833 and McKeon with 33,455.
The fifth-place finisher was nearly 12,000 votes behind McKeon.
“We have a mandate from the city,” Strickland said after the meeting. “The current City Council was on the wrong track. If they were on the right track, all four of us wouldn’t have got elected with that kind of margin. The city wants us to fight.”
In deciding the mayor position, the new council also voted 4-3 to set aside Resolution 6320 and Resolution 2019-09. Typically the most experienced council member, in this case holdover Dan Kalmick, would be next in line for the mayor position.
Kalmick, Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton were the no votes on setting aside the resolutions, and more than likely each would have voted for Kalmick as mayor.
“I’m disappointed to see politics play out over tradition here, both selfishly and for the future of the council,” Kalmick said, above jeers from the crowd. “We have rules and procedures in place ... by ignoring these when we find it politically expeditious, it’s a slippery slope and bad policy.”
The decidedly pro-conservative crowd gave several standing ovations throughout the night. The first was for Peterson at the beginning of the meeting, after he replied that he was present “for the last time” during role call.
Moments later, several people in the crowd audibly yelled out “Christians!” during the invocation, as Rabbi Stephen J. Einstein of Congregation B'nai Tzedek of Fountain Valley was describing groups that had experienced an uptick of hate crimes in recent years.
According to FBI statistics, in 2020 there were 1,244 religious hate crimes nationwide, and the majority (683) were anti-Jewish in nature. There were 153 that could be described as anti-Christian.
A second invocation to the new council was later given by Pastor Joe Pedick of Calvary Chapel of the Harbour church. This was followed by a video set to the song “God Bless the U.S.A.”
Huntington Beach is believed to now have its first Black and Latina Councilwomen, in Bolton and Van Der Mark, respectively. Van Der Mark said some of her remarks in Spanish, a nod to her mother sitting in the audience.
In the past two years, council votes were often 6-1, with Peterson dissenting. But 4-3 votes could quickly become the new norm.
After setting aside the City Council manual, the new council voted 4-3 on Tuesday night to allow the mayor to make determinations regarding seating on the dais, office assignments and parking spaces at City Hall. Strickland also canceled a Thursday meeting to discuss and possibly vote on the housing element, which had been continued from the previous council meeting on Nov. 29.
The new council will hold its first full meeting on Dec. 20.
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