Local Elections Summary

Composite image of candidates’ portraits |


By Joe Livernois

While presidential politics ran rampant and zooey this week, the national and state races on the Central Coast were pretty much business as usual. Rep. Jimmy Panetta defeated what’s-his-name, Assemblyman Mark Stone clobbered what’s-his-face and Assemblyman Robert Rivas outdistanced a nearly anonymous challenger with tens of thousands of votes to spare.

The only real change isn’t much of a change at all. For those of you scoring at home, insert John Laird to replace Sen. Bill Monning in the 17th Senate District. Monning got termed out of Sacramento.

Laird has been a presence since 1981, when he was first elected to the Santa Cruz City Council, and he’s been circulating around state offices ever since he was elected to the Assembly. Last seen, Laird was the state Secretary for National Resources for eight years, until Gov. Jerry Brown retired in 2019.

Speaking of the presidential thing, it’s safe to say that the Central Coast is as true blue as true blue gets. While Joe Biden easily won all the electoral marbles in California by a 2-to-1 margin, 72 percent of Monterey County voters supported him, while only 18 percent of the voters in Santa Cruz County threw in their lot for Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, candidates and interested persons were anxiously waiting until Friday, when the Monterey County Registrar of Voters promised a big drop of newly counted ballots. And, finally, about 7 o’clock in the evening, a dribble of votes were released and election officials said they’d be releasing more on Monday. All anyone knows for certain is that the close races will remain close through the weekend.

It’s Happening in South County

Perhaps the biggest shockers of the local campaign cycle were the apparent defeat of two long-time Salinas Valley mayors.

Soledad Mayor Fred Ledesma apparently fell at the hands of Councilwoman Anna Velazquez. Ledesma has been front and center on the City Council for 21 years, including the last 10 as mayor. Velazquez is a dynamo who worked in Salinas City Hall and who has been politically active in the Salinas Valley for years.

Velazquez said she believes her community was “ready for a change in leadership.”

“It was not easy to enter into this race with so many odds against me,” she added. “However, I had a lot of community support and that made all the difference. We have many young voters who were concerned about the length of time to bring services to Soledad.”

And in Gonzales, the chairman of the city’s planning commission, Jose Rios, apparently unseated veteran Mayor Maria Orozco by several hundred votes. Orozco was first elected to the City Council in 2001, and was elected mayor seven years later. She actively promoted what is known as “The Gonzales Way,” a focused effort to infuse the city with a more positive spirit.

They’ll Never Learn

It’s odd, really, that the movers, shakers and wannabe king-makers in Monterey County have never really figured it out. They so desperately want to elevate their chosen candidates or ballot initiatives that they’ll spend many hundreds of thousands of dollars to convince the locals of the superiority of their position. And it hardly ever works.

Latest case in point? Steve McShane for Monterey County Supervisor. McShane’s people showered him with lavish bags of campaign cash, nearly $1 million in two years. But mild-mannered Wendy Root Askew will replace her boss, Supervisor Jane Parker, when January rolls around.

The Mixed Salad Bag

Over in the Salad Bowl of the World, the Salinas City Council will see lots of change. Whether it moves Salinas’ stature in the world remains to be seen. There’s a new mayor, Kimbley Craig, a former councilwoman who everyone assumed was positioning herself for bigger and better things in the wonderful world of local politics. But then beloved Mayor Joe Gunter died, and so she jumped into that fray. She fought off four dudes.

The only incumbent in a Salinas municipal race, Scott Davis, is hanging on for dear life. Challenger Carla Viviana Gonzalez is in a dead heat with Davis, as of votes counted by Friday night. Orlando Osornio will serve a first term, replacing Councilwoman Gloria de la Rosa, who opted to retire. Then there’s Anthony Rocha, who recently turned drinking age and who was elected in the district currently occupied by Tony Villegas, who also bailed from municipal politics.

Boys, Boys, Boys

In Monterey, the needle remains stuck on the XY chromosomes. The three incumbents, Mayor Clyde Roberson and councilmen Dan Albert Jr. and Alan Haffa, all won. Albert and Haffa had the name recognition and the experience, and they defeated Zoe Carter and Gabriela Chavez. So Monterey will be led by an all-male cast for at least the next two years.

Two females new to the Monterey Peninsula political scene did emerge victorious in Marina, though. Where Kathy Biala and Cristina Medina Dirksen were elected to the City Council. Medina Dirksen defeated Gail Morton, a reliable progressive.

In Seaside, always a city of political wonderment and intrigue, City Council drama during the next couple of years could get interesting after Mayor Ian Oglesby beat away a challenge by one of his councilmen, Jon Wizard.

Meanwhile, Seaside Councilman David Pacheco was elected to another term, while three other candidates, Alexis Garcia-Arrazola, Regina Mason, are neck and neck for the second seat.

And over in Pacific Grove, Luke Coletti and Chaps Poduri will replace Cynthia Garfield and Robert Huitt on the council after winning top votes with incumbent Nick Smith. Garfield and Huitt chose not to seek reelection.

Citizenship test passed

The Poduri story might be one of the coolest of this year’s election cycle. Not only did he win an election, he was able to cast his very first vote as a U.S. citizen for himself. Poduri said he became a citizen last year after moving to the U.S. 19 years ago.

“I have been waiting patiently for a long time to go full steam with my rights as a citizen,” he wrote on his blog not long ago. He’s lived in Pacific Grove with his family since 2016.

A policy wonk by trade, he’s worked for various government agencies and is now a “treasury solutions consultant” for states, cities and other municipalities.

The secret to Poduri’s success? In Pacific Grove?

“I do believe that citizens were looking for someone who had fresh views/perspectives and I really stood out there,” he told Voices by email on Friday night. “Secondly I am – at least as compared to the others in the running – a bit more progressive. (F)or instance, I don’t think anyone even touched upon the topic of racial injustice in any of their platforms so there was that element. Along the way I gathered key supporters and I connected well with the younger generation which I think drove the votes. I also didn’t shirk away from any media appearance or advertising as I wanted folks to know me better.”

And running for office can keep you up at night, Poduri said. “I can’t recall any day that I went to bed before midnight. And now that I’ve gotten so used to it, I am not able to sleep until midnight! It is all good though and I am quite happy that the results worked in my favor.”

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Joe Livernois

About Joe Livernois

Joe Livernois has been a reporter, editor and columnist in Monterey County for 35 years.

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