Plenty Of Winners …After One Intense Vote

By JONATHAN WHITAKER
November 8, 2018

All the political pundits said there would be a good share of close races for an ever-changing local landscape, and they were right.

As the sun bravely rose to a new day on Wednesday morning, first-time candidate Delray Shelton was just FIVE votes ahead of John Bliss in the race for the new District 6 seat on the Merced City Council.

Democrat Anna Caballero was leading Republican Roby Poythress by ONE percentage point, or 1,019 votes, in the District 12 race for State Senate.

And sure-fire Congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno, was surviving and overcoming another fiery surge by a GOP challenger — this time the feisty Elizabeth Heng — in the race to represent this region in the U.S. House of Representatives.

ALL IN ALL, so far, as of this newspaper’s press time, Merced County officials are reporting a relatively strong 33.21 percent overall voter turnout, with 32,526 ballots cast, compared to some 97,926 registered voters in the region.

Merced City Council

Destined for a new look, the Merced City Council will be welcoming its first-ever District 2 leader representing a large portion of south Merced. His name is Fernando Echevarria, and he earned 64.82 percent of only 614 total votes in the district. The result is not so surprising, since Echevarria’s name was the only one on the ballot for District 2. However, a challenger, Ronnie DeAnda, did organize a respectable write-in campaign that came up with 216 votes, or 35.18 percent.

Echevarria, 55, says he plans to bring be new voice for south Merced, and work to improve infrastructure, community policing, and economic development.

For the other end of town, to the north, it was too close to call the District 6 council race before press time. Shelton, a Sheriff’s sergeant, was leading Bliss, a high school teacher, with 50 percent of the vote or 1,178, compared to Bliss’ 49.79 percent or 1,173 votes.

In District 4, central Merced, 37-year-old Kevin Blake appears to be the clear winner, with 56.36 percent of the vote, compared to challenger Karla Seijas’ 43.64 percent.

Blake has been a member of the City Council since 2013, and he’s feeling more positive than every before.

“I’m looking forward to getting to work and continuing the progress that we’ve made over the last five years that I’ve been on the council,” Blake told the Times. “I think we need to take a moment to appreciate were Merced is at right now. A lot of people focus on the negative stuff, but Merced is in a very good position and we are on the precipice of taking off in a lot of areas, and I’m glad that I’m able to serve for another four years to see those things come to fruition. …

“We’re going to continue to develop jobs, and create an environment that is conducive to that. We will continue to support housing and build houses so that families in Merced can see home ownership come to them.

He added, “I want to say to my opponent that I really appreciate that she ran such a dignified race and I believe she has a very bright future."

Mayor’s Race

As expected, Mayor Mike Murphy clobbered challenger Monica Villa in the mayoral race.

Mayor Murphy received an overwhelming 71.91 percent of the vote, earning him a second and final term as the city’s top leader.

“The voters gave me two years, two years ago, and tonight they gave me another two years, and I feel very honored to have their support,” the mayor told the Times.

Nevertheless, Villa had told the Times that she didn’t expect to win, and that she was running more to bring about awareness of homeless issues on the streets of Merced.

Amazingly, Villa has been living homeless herself — and has been that way for a total of nine years.

The Times couldn’t find the underdog on Election Night, but she very well may declare “mission accomplished.”

Consider this: 2,651 Merced residents voted for her, according to the tally so far. That’s 27.78 percent of the vote.

State Senate

Democrat Anna Caballero, an Assemblywoman from Salinas, and Republican Rob Poythress, a Madera County Supervisor, were in a neck-and-neck race for the District 12 State Senate seat that’s been held by Anthony Cannella.

Caballero had 50.5 percent of the vote tally on Wednesday, or 57,104 votes, compared to 49.5 percent, or 56,085 votes for Rob Poythress.

Adding to the tension, it was revealed on Election Day that Caballero’s campaign offices in downtown Merced were broken into. Campaign material and resources were stolen, and the facility was vandalized.

Needless-to-say, that’s not exactly a nice Merced welcome for a woman who could be the region’s next representative in Sacramento, where Democrats are playing with a super-majority.

U.S. Congress

Valley voters are sending Congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno, back to Washington, D.C., to fight for water, health care, and immigration with the promise of new bipartisan legislation.

Costa defeated GOP challenger Elizabeth Heng with 54.5 percent, or 44,769 votes, compared to her 45.6 percent, or 37,480 votes.

It was a bitter campaign, filled with attack ads, but the 66-year-old Costa remains positive.

"Tomorrow morning I will start out once again working for you," Costa said at a campaign rally in Merced.

First elected in 2004, Costa said he has only spent two weekends in Washington this year, conceding it's a long commute to return to the Fresno area each week. He said during the campaign he walked all over Merced County twice, noting this county comprises 37 percent of the population in the 16th Congressional District.

He called attention to new federal legislation which will fund improvements to San Luis Reservoir on Merced County's Westside and legislation which will allow the Merced Irrigation District to raise its gates and bring in 25 percent more water in the next two years.

Costa said he is one of 24 Democrats working with 24 Republicans as problem-solvers in Congress.

"We are trying to reach across the divide. Partisan rancor isn't helpful in getting immigration reform and fixing the broken health care system," Costa said.

State Assembly

State Assembly member Adam Gray sailed to victory Tuesday night, garnering nearly 70-percent of the vote in in the district over Libertarian challenger Justin Ryan Quigley. Gray, a moderate Democrat from Merced, won his fourth term to District 21. He first was elected in 2012.

Gray said with Democrats regaining control of the House of Representatives, the nation's checks and balances system is back and that's how they can start to move the country forward. “Everybody wants safe communities, good roads and schools, and hopefully both parties will work together to make it happen,” he said at a rally.

Interestingly, a campaign staffer told the Times that Gray first met Quigley a few weeks ago during a family night out to hear local bands at the Star Club in downtown Merced. Quigley, who lives in the Modesto area, was actually a guest performer with one of the bands. He reportedly drove a van parked outside with a bunch of campaign stickers on it. The two sat down that night and got along great, the staffer said.

Atwater Races

The packed crowd at Isabella’s Bar and Grill was going crazy with euphoria on Election Night as they watched Paul Creighton surge to a landslide victory over incumbent Mayor Jim Price.

A total of 3,958 Atwater residents voted in the race tally so far, and Paul Creighton received 73 percent of that, or 2,641.

It’s been a nasty political season in Atwater, as two sides of a divided council have accused each other of legal and ethical violations. City Hall meetings have featured extremely heated public comments too. Issues include possible state intervention because of rising city debt numbers, a controversy over the employment of a police chief on administrative leave, and the hiring of multiple city managers in a relatively short amount of time.

However, the tension evaporated at Isabella’s as the numbers came in, and the new Mayor-elect Creighton stood on top of a chair to greet his supporters who were chanting: “Fix City Hall! … Fix City Hall! … Fix City Hall!”

“I think the people of Atwater have spoken, and made it very clear what they want, and the direction they want to go in,” Creighton told the Times. “I am committed to follow what we started. Over the next four years, with the council we have now, I look forward to great success for Atwater. …

“I think people believe in what we are doing, and what I’m in doing, and I’m going to prove to them that what we have been doing is the right thing. It’s going to be a tough road, but I think we will be successful at it. I’m going to make people who didn’t believe, become believers …”

When asked what his first priority will be as the new mayor of Atwater, Creighton said, “Unify the City Council. … You are going to see a more unified council, and we are going to do what the people want done. And we are going to execute things at a much faster pace.”

Meanwhile, Creighton’s colleague Councilman Brian Raymond was re-elected with a decisive win over his opponent, Don Hyler, for the District 4 seat. Raymond received 64.77 percent of the vote, or 818 votes.

Raymond also addressed the need to unify the City Council and the conversation at City Hall.

“You are always going to have a diversity of thought,” he told the Times. “You are never going to agree 100 percent of the time, and if you do, there’s a problem. So my hope is that we have civility on the Council and at City Hall. And my hope is that we work through problems and move the city forward.”

District 3 candidates in Atwater included Dan Hernandez, who received 52.09 percent of the vote compared to Danny Ambriz, who received 47.19 percent of the vote. They were only separated by 27 votes as of Wednesday morning.

Merced College

Longtime member of the Merced College Board of Trustees and farmer Cindy Lashbrook was defeated by Mario Mendoza of Livingston who received 53.3 percent of the vote in the Area 1 vote.

Another longtime member of the board, Dennis Jordan lost to Sue Chappell who earned 56.2 percent of the vote in the Area 4 race.

And former County Supervisor John Pedrozo proved he remains popular with a big win against incumbent Leonel Villarreal for the Area 7 seat on the board. Pedrozo received 63 percent of the vote.

MUHSD

In the race for representation on the board of the Merced Union High School District, Erin Hamm was victorious over Tammie Calzadillas with 58 percent of the vote in the Area 1 race.

Longtime member Dave Honey lost to Tiffany Pickle, who earned 46 percent of the vote in the Area 2 vote.

MCSD

In the Merced City School District board race for Area 1, it was Shane Smith who came out on top with 47 percent of the vote, winning over the incumbent Michael Crass, who received 35 percent of the vote, and Hrant Hratchian, who received nearly 18 percent.

3,319 people voted in that race that represents the northern region of Merced.

Los Banos

Incumbent Mayor Mike Villalta won re-election — his fifth term in office — with 69.56 percent over business owner Nilson Gomes Filho who had 29.59 percent.

Livingston

Longtime city leader Gurpal Samra, with 36.4 percent of the vote, held a significant lead over his closest opponents, Juan Aguilar Jr. with 28.5 percent, and Alex McCabe with 27.9 percent.

Also, three City Council seats were up for grabs in a crowded ballot, but it’s looking like Raul Garcia, Garry Gurpreet Singh and Maria Baptista Soto are the top vote-getters.

Gustine

City Council member Patrick Nagy earned 65.32 percent of the vote in the mayoral race, compared to newcomer Zachary Ramos with 34.26 percent. It also looks like former mayor Rich Ford is back on the City Council, after he earned 38 percent of the vote that featured three candidates vying for two spots.


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