Right or left? Tito Ortiz’s exit bares political divide in Huntington Beach – Orange County Register
The fact that there is a powerful debate swirling around Tito Ortiz’s now vacant seat on Huntington Beach City Council comes as no surprise. After all, in the iconic beach community, politics tend to spark heated uproar all around.
Earlier this month, just six months after starting a four-year term, Ortiz came to a board meeting to step down from his elected post. “This job doesn’t work for me,” the mixed martial arts star told his colleagues and the audience.
Now, the remaining half-dozen members of the board are responsible for choosing their replacement. At a special meeting last week, they voted unanimously to accept nominations for the post until June 18.
Whatever their decision, it is sure to attract anger. Three of the board members were fairly liberal and two were moderate – and all five were harsh critics of Ortiz. Only one board member, Erik Peterson, was Ortiz’s constant ally.
Given the makeup of the current board, it’s possible that Ortiz – still popular in right-wing circles – could be traded for someone on the left. It is an ironic scenario which, no doubt, would deprive a myriad of voices of their rights.
Ortiz won his election in November with 42,000 votes, making him the most successful city council candidate in the city’s history. So it’s also possible that even a left-wing council will choose a replacement who represents the conservative lean of Ortiz’s supporters.
An expensive vote?
Ortiz, who was named acting mayor when he was sworn in, quickly put himself on the national map as a colorful figure who swore coronavirus vaccinations and masks – with antics such as slamming a local restaurant beloved for his role as a mask on social networks.
Then, in April, Huntington Beach officials learned that Ortiz had filed an unemployment claim against the town as he continued to collect his paychecks from the council.
The constant media attention has proven to be embarrassing for much of Huntington Beach. But regardless of his weaknesses, Ortiz also enjoyed the ardent support of many residents.
Peterson bristled during an attempt in February to wrest the ceremonial title from the interim mayor. His fellow council members, complained Peterson, “were dragging Tito through the mud.”
Given Ortiz’s recent decisive victory, Peterson argued at the June 10 meeting, the vacant post should be dealt with in a special election. “It is the seat of the people, not the seat of the council,” he said.
Peterson also observed that, unlike other city council appointments made over the past three decades, this one will serve “essentially a full term” rather than a few scattered months.
Still, Peterson joined with other council members in voting to follow procedures set out by the city’s charter. According to the protocol, the council has 60 days to make an appointment, without having to take into account the results of the previous elections. If it does not do so within this time frame, the city must hold a special election.
A stand-alone election would cost around $ 1 million, City Manager Oliver Chi said in his presentation. Supporting the upcoming vote on whether to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom would reduce that cost, Chi added, but the statewide election date remains uncertain.
“Given the logistical maneuvers we would have to do, we wouldn’t be able to tell people when the elections would take place,” Chi said.
In the November elections, Ortiz was running for one of the three open seats. Dan Kalmick and Natalie Moser, both Democrats who each won around 30,000 votes, finished second and third and currently sit on the board.
Peterson suggested that fourth place finish – Gracey Van Der Mark, who won around 23,000 votes – could be a potential replacement for Ortiz.
“Go back and look at the last election and use the finalist,” Peterson said at the June 10 board meeting.
“Yes, we are supposed to choose (according to the charter),” he added. “But people have already chosen for us.”
However, Van Der Mark would come up with his own set of controversies rather than as a calming proxy.
Among other incidents, Van Der Mark attended a protest in 2017 that disrupted a racial justice meeting in Santa Monica. Members of the Proud Boys and other far-right groups were among the protesters.
After Van Der Mark posted on a YouTube account that “people of color were there to do what the Jewish seniors asked them to do,” two school districts kicked her off committees.
In a statement to the Orange County Register a few months later, Van Der Mark said: “I described the meeting as it was explained to me by one of the organizers. These were his words and not mine … I regret not having been clearer in my message.
Van Der Mark’s track record is well known. A resident told council last week: “If Gracey is nominated, it will be the same circus that Tito was in.
But many in Huntington Beach continue to embrace Van Der Mark and claim that the denunciations of her are unfair. “Put Gracey in her rightful place (or) you break your vows to the citizens who live here,” pleaded another speaker.
Ahead of last week’s meeting, the city received hundreds of emails, many in favor of Van Der Mark. But it’s the board that will make the final decision at a meeting in July.
Interested parties can complete an online application before 5 p.m. on Friday, June 17 at Huntingtonbeachca.gov or pick up an application from the City Clerk’s office at 2000 Main Street, 2nd Floor. For more information, contact the City Manager’s office at 714-536-5579 or [email protected]