The final Anaheim city council candidate forum before Election Day quickly turned into a high school prep rally last night, with District 3 hopeful Jose F. Moreno as its main mascot. School buses brought a batch of kids from Anaheim High School to watch democracy in action at the newly opened Arab-American Community Center on Beach Boulevard. With Anaheim High School teacher and city school board member Ryan Ruelas seated at the front, his students, wearing Anaheim Bros and CROWN (Civically Raising Opportunities for Women) shirts, cheered wildly whenever Moreno made an emphatic point.
But other candidates did show up to the shindig. And unlike previous forums that focused on particular districts, last night's event brought everyone together—or at least tried to.
Donna Acevedo-Nelson, Steve Faessel, Mark Lopez, and Sandra Angel represented the race in District 5 (aka the Platinum Triangle and Projects district!). Arturo Ferreras and Robert Williams came from the battle in District 4 (aka the Disneyland district). Incumbent Jordan Brandman and Moreno squared off in District 3 (aka the Colony or Chicano? district) Last but not least, Mark Daniels, Angel Van Stark and Leonard Lahtinen duked it out for District 1 (aka Hookers and Blow district). WHEW! Incumbent Lucille Kring (D4) and dirty ex-cop Steven Chavez Lodge (D1) didn't bother with the forum.
Norberto Santana, Voice of OC publisher and darling of all things liberal in Orange County, moderated the shit show. Things got off to a promising start with Theresa Smith, mother of a man slain by Anaheim cops in 2009, asked a tough question about police oversight. See, the city has a public safety board, but it lacks real huevos. Moreno brought up community policing, advocating for a review board with subpoena powers and then beat up on his opponent, Brandman. "Unfortunately, our city council member voted to have a diluted public safety board," he said. The kids roared in applause. "We need a stronger neighborhood and an organized community," Ferreras added, claiming the divide between police and the Ponderosa barrio had been bridged. Of course, when Ponderosa organized after the 2012 police killing of Martin Angel Hernandez, the community marched in protest and hashed out complaints of brutality during a forum that followed—all of which Ferrreras decried to Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait in an email as the work of "a mob." Daniels spoke in favor of subpoena power, as he has consistently before being a candidate, and readied a critique on dirty-cop Lodge as a reason why a strong board is needed, but Santana cut off any candidate attacks—save for Moreno's on Brandman all night.
An easy question about youth came next in the forum. "A lot of politicians that went to [Anna Drive] made a lot of promises and after they got elected, they disappeared," says Acevedo-Nelson, who lives there. "I have been working with the youth, I see some of them here." She got a mild, polite applause from them; when Moreno slammed corporate interests and firmly placed his campaign with youth and families, the Bros and the CROWNs cheered on. Lahtinen lauded The Irvine Company's investment in arts education and challenged Disney to match their generosity, which led the kids to cheer again. Shows how much Ruelas and Moreno have taught them about the campaign: Don Bren is the devil, and Lahtinen is actually a Disney-friendly backup if that whole Lodge thing doesn't work out.
The candidates fielded another question about Anaheim's war on the homeless by way of an infamous anti-camping ordinance the Weekly first reported on. "I was formerly homeless," Van Stark said. "The [Kraemer] shelter that's going to open up is not going to work. The most vulnerable people who need attention wont get it." The students rightly cheered that one. Van Stark later began criticizing Lahtinen, only to have Santana step in there, too.
But Moreno freely took the opportunity to attack Brandman, again. "We didn't actually hear our current councilman say he was going to repeal the anti-camping ordinance," he said. "Shame on you, Mr. Brandman!" Santana stood idly by while the youth loved the theatrics. Brandman, a former Weekly Scariest People Issue inductee like Moreno, didn't return the fireworks like he could, failing to point out that Mayor Tait, Moreno's endorser whose family stuffs his campaign coffers, voted for the camping ban, too, along with the feckless public safety board.
All candidates save for Angel and Faessel agreed that Anaheim should become a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants. Moreno criticized congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who endorsed Brandman over him, for having supported Anaheim's INS jail pilot program two decades ago while touting Tait on immigration. Wait—didn't Tait support the program and Bob Zemel, its racist council champion, too? Yes, he did. But both Sanchez and Tait have come a long way (for them) since then. Acevedo-Nelson took the issue beyond scoring cheap political points, sharing that the pilot program led to the jailing and deportation of her first husband, breaking the Acevedo family apart.
And what debate in Anaheim would be complete without the question of corporate subsidies for luxury hotels and Angel Stadium? "Let the market decide," said Lopez, a Republican who works for Supervisor Shawn Nelson. "This is the defining issue of this election," Moreno chipped in. "It creates more revenue for all of us," Brandman countered, earning boos from the kids.
By the time each candidate ended with closing statements, half the room emptied at the Arab American Community Center. It got close to bedtime for the youngsters, after all. But if the Weekly can channel Wu-Tang's Inspectah Deck and "kick some truth to the young [brown] youth" for a minute: We know y'all want something to believe in, but when it comes to Anaheim politics, cuidado with the Kool-Aid!