Mayor Tom Tait Finally Wins a Council Majority in Anaheim—Now What?

Team Tait from left to right: Jose Moreno, Tom Tait, Denise Barnes, Mark Lopez (didn't make it), and James VanderbiltEXPAND
Team Tait from left to right: Jose Moreno, Tom Tait, Denise Barnes, Mark Lopez (didn't make it), and James Vanderbilt
Photo by Gabriel San Roman / OC Weekly

Former mayor Curt Pringle is cursing the darkness somewhere in Anaheim—maybe at The Catch alongside disgraced blogger Matt "Outed Sex-Abuse Victims" Cunningham and Liberal OC owner Dan "Blueviator" Chmielewski? His 14-year grip on city hall, both from the dais and as ultra-lobbyist afterward, dramatically slipped away Monday night. Current mayor Tom Tait, who counted Pringle as a friend before turning foe, won a council majority by picking up two razor thin victories in Anaheim's first district-based elections, including Jose Moreno's 44-vote defeat of Pringle protege Jordan Brandman.

With the passing of two measures in 2014 changing Anaheim from at-large to district elections and expanding the council to seven seats, Tait walked precincts with all four candidates on his endorsed slate and thought he'd pick up a clean sweep of the seats up for grabs. The early returns on election night showed Denise Barnes with a slim lead over dirty ex-cop Steven Chavez Lodge in West Anaheim with Moreno trailing Brandman.

Disney-backed candidates look poised to win three of four races, dashing the mayor's last hope to establish a council majority before his term ends in 2018. "I was surprised with Jose Moreno because there was tremendous grassroots support," Tait tells the Weekly. "But when the race tied on Friday night and then Moreno winning on Monday, you couldn't write that story." Mayor in the middle no more, Tait now adds two allies to the dais, joining incumbent James Vanderbilt.

With a new four-member majority, Tait wants to leave Anaheim with a "kindness and freedom" cultural imprint, but has a broader agenda in mind. "The focus has not been on the people of Anaheim these last few years and I'd like to see that change," Tait says. "Who do we represent? The people and not special interests." The mayor has found himself at odds with his former political benefactors like the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, Pringle and Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR) to name a few.

Comprised of two Democrats and two Republicans, the Tait slate ran on a unified message opposing the massive subsidies granted to hoteliers by the Pringle-backed council majorities in recent years, a policy the mayor hopes is now in ash heap of Anaheim's history. "Those kinds of deals shouldn't even be showing up on the agenda now because by definition it's taking the people's money and giving it to individual corporations," he says. The mayor is hopeful that a new stadium deal and lease extension for the Angels can come to an agreement that's beneficial for both the baseball team and the city. 

Whipping boy no more
Whipping boy no more

Even though the incoming council will be made up of six Republicans alongside Moreno, the mayor's opponents have hammered him online for endorsing the progressive Democrat. They claim Tait is a traitor to his party and conservatism while being a useful idiot for activists hoping to turn Anaheim blue. "I support the person before the party and the best interests of the city before the party," Tait says. "Things like statesmanship are more important than partisanship."

Truth be told, Democrats gained little from district election's first go-round, with Tait-endorsed Arturo Ferreras losing handily in District Four against incumbent Lucille Kring. Democrats Donna Acevedo-Nelson, Leonard Lahtinen and Mark Daniels didn't enjoy much support in District Five and One, respectively. Much of the resources focused on the District Three Democrat-on-Democrat battle, with Moreno eking out a victory. It was like Kobe Bryant's last Lakers game, a star-centered effort that left a woefully undeveloped team behind.

Jose Moreno didn't return the Weekly's request for comment.

Mayor Tait doesn't believe detractors when they claim his anti-subsidy stance will kill development in Anaheim.  "When did this idea come out that being pro-business means giving certain businesses money?" he asks. "I'm pro-business as they get and I think what we'll do is treat every business well by making it easy for small businesses to prosper by not putting a bunch of hurdles in their way."

With that in mind, the mayor wants to jump start the Regulatory Relief Task Force he championed in 2011 but that got lost in the logjams over subsidies the last four years. "I'd like to continue and cut unneeded regulations," he says. "That needs to be and will be reinvigorated with this council." The Task Force sought to "apply the wisdom" of Ronald Reagan and forms the "freedom" part of Tait's cultural civic crusade.

Tait has reason to smile
Tait has reason to smile
Photo by John Gilhooley / OC Weekly

He's also long been stalled on taking on pensions, with the council majority securing a contract for city workers in 2012 that earned Brandman loyal support from the Anaheim Municipal Employee Association (AMEA) during his failed re-election bid. Tait also found himself alone again in 2012 on the question of cutting firefighters' pensions. "In the past, the council has given the highest possible pension allowable per state law for new hires," he adds. "The state allows us to give a more reasonable pension. That's for new hires, the low-hanging fruit for pension reform."

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The mayor credits district elections as a "game changer" allowing his last two years in office to be filled with optimism. "Neither Barnes or Moreno would have stood a chance in an at-large election," Tait says. "You can actually have a grassroots campaign walking precincts and stand a chance." The 2012 American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that lead to a settlement held Anaheim's at-large system as culprit for the lack of Latino representation on council.

Born to Abelardo and Marie Avila, Barnes becomes the first Latina in history to serve on Anaheim's city council. Moreno joins Vanderbilt in upping Latino representation to three out of the seven seats—all backed by Tait. "I went for who I thought were the best people and they happened to be Latinos," the mayor says. "It makes sense, because they reflect the community of Anaheim which is half Latino."


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