By Jonathan Volzke
With the official swearing in of Sam Allevato and Roy Byrnes slated for the December 4 City Council meeting, there’s still some time to mull over the November 6 results.
First off, the numbers: Capistrano saw 14,928 of its 20,349 registered voters cast a ballot by the end of election day, for a 73.4 percent turnout. As always, the city turned out in a higher percentage than Orange County, which saw a 66.8 percent turnout, which about mirrored the state’s turnout of 67 percent. Cheers to Alpine County for its 84.9 percent turnout, by the way, and jeers to Napa County for its dismal 45 percent turnout.
Byrnes garnered the greatest number of votes with 5,956. Allevato was second with 5,231, while Kim McCarthy was third in the race for two seats with 4,791. When Capistrano voters go for a bit of a change, they go big: In 2008, “newcomer” Laura Freese garnered the most votes, while in 2006, then-challenger Mark Nielsen finished atop the ballot.
And while the race for the third seat seemed close—440 votes—keep in mind that 30 votes separate two candidates vying for a seat in Fullerton as I write this. A Yorba Linda man was elected by 200 votes this year—that in a city where one vote decided a race in 2010.
It was Freese stepping down for family reasons that created the open seat that Byrnes grabbed. Allevato has actually managed to pull off something increasingly difficult in town in gaining re-election, as Capistrano voters have regularly removed incumbents since 2002. (Joe Soto served six years after his election in 2002 but was reappointed in 2004 when no challenger stepped forward. He lost his only re-election bid in 2008.)
We’ll hear a bit about money—that Allevato and Planning Commissioner Ginny Kerr greatly outspent their opponents. The final finance reports aren’t due for a few weeks but the last forms did show a great disparity in spending: Allevato and Kerr more than $35,000 each, while Byrnes and McCarthy spent less than $5,000 each.
But obviously the election wasn’t bought, as voters picked one high-dollar candidate and one low-dollar candidate. The money helps buy name recognition, of course, and Allevato and Kerr invested in mailers sent to homes. Kerr—who arguably had the least name recognition among the four top candidates—Byrnes and McCarthy seemed to have those blue and white signs everywhere and also had strong name recognition from the Common Sense newsletter that’s been distributed throughout town the last few years.
One issue remains unfinished: both the Fair Political Practices Commission and the Orange County District Attorney are investigating whether Common Sense publishers violated any laws during the election cycle. Capistrano attorney Ed Connor filed a complaint that the newsletter was essentially acting as an unregistered political action committee.
I suspect the difference in the campaign: Allevato and Kerr also assembled a team of volunteers to knock on every door in town with fliers supporting them, even the largely Latino communities in the Villas and San Juan Village. As Patch.com pointed out a few days after the election, those neighborhoods overwhelmingly supported Allevato.
McCarthy, of course, made her name in town as a vocal critic—very vocally and very critically—of immigration policies and her perception that Capistrano had become a “Sanctuary City.” Allevato, a former police officer, was more moderate, although he did support the city’s use of e-verify before that was made illegal in the state.
Election strategy aside, I’m convinced Capistrano voters picked the two candidates they knew and thought best for the job. Although well known in the equestrian community, Kerr’s work on the Planning Commission wasn’t high enough profile to put her in the top two spots. And McCarthy was just too well known. A smart woman with some good ideas, she was just too polarizing in her often-angry approach. Tom Marantz was another candidate who will make a good addition to our community’s leadership but needs to get involved and get his name out there.
Most of us treasure the “community” of Capistrano, and elections by their nature divide neighbors. The takeaway from this election should be that we’re going to disagree, but we must do so with respect for one another. And as we take off our armor from the election battle, we should all take a moment to look around: our community faces challenges that we need to solve together, but we have much to be thankful for.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.