The political lean of Huntington Beach shifted Monday, when civil rights attorney Rhonda Bolton was named to replace outgoing conservative Tito Ortiz on the city council.
The move came after Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Delgleize unexpectedly announced at a special meeting that she would join three of her colleagues in supporting Bolton. Fifteen minutes later, at 7:45 p.m., Bolton was sworn in.
Bolton is the first Black woman to serve on the council.
Delgleize’s change of heart means the city will not need to hold a special election this November that would have cost taxpayers around $1 million.
After Bolton took a seat, Mayor Kim Carr adjourned the meeting.
It was a quick and quiet ending to a boisterous meeting in which audience members supporting Gracey Van Der Mark booed at public speakers and screamed when Delgleize said she would vote for Bolton.
One week ago, on July 19, the six council members – missing a seventh after Ortiz’s June 1 resignation – deadlocked over appointing a replacement.
Carr and Council members Dan Kalmick and Natalie Moser pushed for Bolton. Delgleize and Councilman Mike Posey wanted self-described conservative Jeff Morin, a businessman who placed ninth in the November election with 6% of the vote. And Councilman Erik Peterson backed Van Der Mark, another November candidate, who came in fourth with 8% of the vote.
When Delgleize’s statement appeared to clear the path for Bolton, Posey made a motion to hold a special election, seconded by Peterson. But that motion failed 4-2.
It is unclear if a special election would have been constitutional under the city charter, which states that an election should be held to fill a vacancy only if council members can’t reach an agreement on an appointment.
After failing to coalesce around an appointee last week, council members were under a tight deadline. Per the city charter, they had 60 days after Ortiz’s resignation – until this Saturday, July 31 – to name someone or else hold a $1 million election on Nov. 2.
More than 100 residents applied for the position.
Fans of Ortiz, and Ortiz himself, pushed for Van Der Mark in social media campaigns and at rallies. They claimed she would be the obvious choice because she came in fourth in the general election behind Kalmick and Moser, who each took 11% of the vote to win two of the three seats.
Ortiz, an MMA star and outspoken opponent of vaccines and mask mandates, placed first with 15%. However, from the start, his six-month tenure was marked with controversy – turning the local celebrity into a national celebrity. Ortiz publicly ridiculed the coronavirus vaccine, refused to wear a mask to events and restaurants, and filed for unemployment from the city despite remaining employed as a councilman.
Though he was widely criticized, he also had many supporters in the city offering enthusiastic support. After his resignation, they got behind Van Der Mark – who shares Ortiz’s skepticism about safety measures meant to curb coronavirus.
Although not as well known as Ortiz, Van Der Mark could have been just as controversial – something most council members hoped to avoid after Ortiz helped bring Huntington Beach negative attention.
Not only is she outspoken about debunked coronavirus theories, Van Der Mark has participated in demonstrations alongside members of groups such as the notorious Proud Boys.
One of the speakers Monday night reminded the council that the Anti-Defamation League in 2018 condemned Van Der Mark for “bigoted and hateful comments” and for participating in “activities organized and led by white supremacists.”
Given last week’s meeting at which council members could not hammer out an agreement, a special election appeared on the horizon. Some of the two dozen speakers Monday night argued that an election would be the fairest way to go.
One resident said that, regardless of his support for Van Der Mark, he believes a special election would be the “wisest and best course” – especially since Ortiz’s replacement will serve for more than three years, almost a full term.
“Whoever you appoint, they will be attacked by one side or the other,” he said. “A winner of a special election could not be attacked in the same way.”
Source: Orange County Register