Establishment Candidates Set to Square Off in 2018 Anaheim Mayoral Election

Ashleigh Aitken: Anaheim's first woman mayor?
Ashleigh Aitken: Anaheim's first woman mayor?
Screengrab from Inside OC with Rick Reiff

Who'll take over Anaheim mayor Tom Tait's "City of Kindness" in 2018? With Tait terming out after eight years in office, two viable candidates are itching to take his seat. Former councilman Harry Sidhu, a Republican, announced his bid last month. In doing so, he formally challenged attorney Ashleigh Aitken, a Democrat who filed before him, in the race. Both live in Anaheim Hills and both are establishment candidates in their party. But the two will be spending the next year-and-a-half convincing voters they're best suited to lead OC's largest city.

Aitken, whose father Wylie is also an attorney and an Orange County Democratic Party power broker, has never run for elected office but is already off to a strong fundraising start according to new campaign finance disclosure forms. She amassed $183,527 in contributions since announcing her run in late May. Sidhu hasn't reported any contributions yet, but is touting endorsements from the OC jail snitch scandal-plagued pair of Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and retiring Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.

The money is sure to start coming in for Sidhu from all the predictable places: Pringle & Associates, Support Our Anaheim Resort's (SOAR) PAC, hoteliers like Bill O'Connell, and, of course, Disneyland.

A closer look at Aitken's campaign coffers reveals an already established cringe-worthy list of contributors. The first-time candidate is getting a lot of financial help from fellow attorneys. Beyond that, she's counting the support of folks with less-than-stellar reputations. Irv Chase, downtown SanTana's gentrification lord, chipped in $2,000. Wealthy property owner Bill Taormina, who once pondered why all of Anaheim couldn't just come under one big blanket gang injunction, and his family count themselves among Aitken's early donors.

Former OC Democratic Party Chair Frank Barbaro, no friend to progressives trying to reshape the party, also pledged his support. And given that Aitken served as treasurer for former congresswoman Loretta Sanchez's failed U.S. senate campaign last year, it's no surprise Sanchez returned the favor listing her out-of-office job as a consultant for the Einwhecter & Hyatt legal firm when contributing $1,000. Sanchez, who Aitken's dad helped get into office 20 years ago, also recently reappeared in local Anaheim politics as a "celebrity sommelier" for the subsidy-loving SOAR PAC's fifth annual "Bold Wine with Bold Leaders" fundraiser—a site of protest in the past.

Aitken does have some union backing, principally from the Orange County Employees Association (OCEA) and its former boss Nick Berardino who praised her as the "future governor of California." The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) is Aitken's other union supporter that appears in disclosure forms. Neither OCEA or IBEW opposed huge subsidies given to hotel developers by Anaheim city council in recent years—the defining issue of Tait's two terms where liberal progressives and good-government Republicans formed unlikely alliances against the giveaways.

Will Aitken continue Tait's legacy on opposing subsidies? (The Taits and Aitkens are friendly enough). Where she stands on the issue is left unstated on her campaign website. Aitken did endorse councilman Jose Moreno over subsidy-supporting incumbent Jordan Brandman last election in a closely contested race. Whatever the case, she faces a hapless opponent next year. A businessman who owes part of his wealth to owning local El Pollo Loco franchises, Sidhu smugly opposed district election reform and doled out the developer welfare while the city exploded in riots five years ago. How hard can it be to beat Sidhu, whose cheesy slogan is "Together, we can make Anaheim shine"?

If Aitken prevails next year, she'd make history as the first-ever woman to become Anaheim mayor. But if her politics prove to be as unsavory as some of her financial backers, it'll be business as usual at Anaheim city hall.


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