Experienced politicians have prevailed so far in a Huntington Beach City Council race that featured 21 candidates for four open seats.
The four preliminary winners — Connie Boardman, Joe Carchio, Matthew Harper and Joe Shaw — have all held political office in Surf City. Fourteen of the candidates were running the first time, and more than half had never served on a government body.
Carchio, who ran a restaurant downtown for years, was the only incumbent. Boardman served on the council from 2000-04 and holds a leadership position with the Bolsa Chica Land Trust.
Shaw, who ran with Boardman as part of Team Huntington Beach, spent years as a planning and public works commissioner.
Harper had never run for the council before, but has 12 years of experience as a trustee for the Huntington Beach Union High School District Board of Education.
Even the candidates in fifth and sixth, Barbara Delgleize and Blair Farley, serve on the Planning Commission.
Official totals are pending as the Orange County Registrar of Voters counts provisional ballots. As of Wednesday morning, Shaw led Delgleize by 332 votes.
According to Boardman, the top vote-getter, voters may have sought experienced leaders during a tough time in Huntington Beach.
"It might be because of the fiscal problems and the budget crisis that people were favoring people who had experience, either on the Planning Commission or past experience on the council," she said. "I think a lot of us [candidates] made a point of that."
The last time Surf City had four open seats, in 2006, seven people ran for the council. This year, more hopefuls entered the race than in any other in the past decade and any other in Orange County this year, where the next largest was Anaheim, with 14 candidates vying for council and three for mayor.
It was an eclectic group of candidates, and some used unorthodox methods of campaigning. Andrissa Dominguez, a playground supervisor at Smith Elementary School, painted dried palm fronds to use as signs.
Landon Fichtner, a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, spread the word about his candidacy by striking up conversations with people renting DVDs. The ballot even included Shawn Roselius, an 18-year-old who recently graduated from Edison High School.
When the results came in early Nov. 3, Boardman and Carchio led by thousands of votes, while Harper and Shaw clung to third and fourth place, respectively. As of press time, 10 of the 20 candidates on the ballot — the 21st, Blake Rose, was a write-in — had more than 10,000 votes.
Kim Kramer, spokesman for the Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Assn., called Harper's victory the biggest upset of the race. Kramer, whose grass-roots group created a website this summer offering detailed profiles on the candidates, said he expected Fred Speaker, whom the city's police and fire unions both endorsed, to finish higher than his ninth place.
Boardman and Carchio also got backing from the city's fire and police unions, which had not endorsed a losing candidate in at least the last three elections. This year, though, they may be the exceptions, as the unions endorsed three other candidates who are trailing: Jim Katapodis, endorsed by the police, Farley, endorsed by the firefighters, and Speaker.
Harper benefited from other high-profile endorsements, as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), Assemblyman Jim Silva (R-Huntington Beach), Fountain Valley Mayor Larry Crandall and the Republican Party of Orange County supported his candidacy.
If the four front-runners end up victorious, it could create a new dynamic on the dais, Kramer said.
Over the last two years, many of the council's major votes have been lopsided, with Councilwoman Jill Hardy the only dissenter against the Ridge and Shea Homes housing developments, the Downtown Specific Plan and the subsequent environmental impact report for the Poseidon Desalination Plant project. Issues such as the annexation of Sunset Beach, the subdivision of the Huntington Shorecliffs Mobile Home Park and the Beach and Edinger Corridors Specific Plan have also been decided in a 5-2 vote.
The new lineup may result in more focus on residential quality-of-life issues, said Kramer, whose group endorsed Boardman, Shaw and Farley.
"I don't think it's going to be a 5-2 council anymore," he said. "I don't think it's going to be a slam dunk."
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