Vote-Splitting Plot In Santa Ana

[Moxley Confidential] Sal Tinajero says he has proof his opponent and former opponent were in cahoots

How can Aldaz be so sure of not just a conspiracy, but of the identities of the participants?

“Helen admitted everything to me,” Aldaz says, “and I can prove it.”

Before we get to that alleged proof, let’s note an irony: Gordon didn’t qualify for the ballot to run against Tinajero, Martinez and Nam Pham.

Sal Tinajero says his opponents were in cahoots
Christopher Victorio
Sal Tinajero says his opponents were in cahoots

“I turned in 23 signatures,” he says. “I needed 20, but the clerk disqualified a few of them, including my own. Imagine that: They claimed my signature didn’t match my voter registration. But hey, I’m not going to claim any conspiracy. I screwed up. Shame on me. . . . I kick myself every day that I’m not running against Sal.”

Did he conspire to split the Latino vote before his nomination debacle? “Come on!” says Gordon, adding he would welcome an investigation. “They’ve got you chasing the bogeyman. . . . I’ve broken no laws. Look, I’m loud, and I get in people’s faces at City Hall, and they don’t like it.”

The idea of planting fake candidates on a ballot isn’t unusual. Democrat Larry Agran kept control of the Irvine City Council in 2004 by having Earle Zucht run as a Republican. Zucht, whose campaign tellingly spouted Agran’s talking points, siphoned several thousand key votes from authentic GOP candidates. California’s election code makes it a crime punishable by prison time to submit false declarations of candidacy or commit an act of voter fraud. But such schemes rarely get prosecuted because of lack of evidence.

Aldaz insists that is not the case in Santa Ana. She has documents—notably, e-mails from Martinez to her and another woman, Irma Macias—that she says prove the conspiracy. Aldaz provided those e-mails to Tinajero, as well as the Weekly (and law enforcement). I corresponded with Martinez and set up our phone interview using the same address on the e-mails Aldaz provided.

“Hey, Girls,” Martinez allegedly wrote on Aug. 8 letter. “I am running for council member of Ward 6. I filed yesterday just before cut-off time. I trust both of you to not share this with anyone, but I’m sure you’ve both figured out why I’m doing this. . . . If anyone asks you why I am running, just say that I want to make a change in our community before we end up like the city of Bell.”

On Aug. 21, Martinez allegedly sent another e-mail to Aldaz.

“I know that you are upset, and quite frankly, I’m disappointed, too,” the e-mail reads. “Tom and I only committed an illegal action for two hours. Two hours because that is how long it took Tom to be told that he did not make enough signatures to put him on the ballot.”

She also claimed “David” had called to discuss dropping out after Gordon didn’t qualify and noted, “Tom helps where he can, but still kicks himself in the butt for his mistake.”

Martinez disputes even the existence of the e-mails. “I have no idea what [Aldaz] is talking about,” she says.

For her part, Aldaz declares, “I couldn’t sit on this. If Helen wanted to make change in the city, she should have tried to do it honestly.”

rscottmoxley@ocweekly.com

A version of this story first appeared on our Navel Gazing blog. This column appeared in print as "Split Indecision: Santa Ana City Councilman Sal Tinajero’s opponents insist they weren’t running as bi-ethnic, vote-splitting tag team. So, what about those e-mails?"

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