The Mouse Strikes Back: Disney Dominates Anaheim Elections

“I’ve got your reset button right here!”

The Disneyland Resort hit another “reset” button in Anaheim last night, but not the one critics of the corporation hoped for. Candidates favored by the Mouse won two of three council races, along with the mayor’s seat, in reasserting their dominance over city hall. Also, a living wage measure for Anaheim Resort workers on the ballot clings onto a slim lead of just 422 votes with all precincts counted, one that may or may not evaporate when mail-in and provisional ballots are all accounted for.

Topping the night, former councilman Harry Sidhu declared victory as Anaheim’s next mayor. He did so with a relative majority, claiming 36 percent of the vote to Democratic newcomer Ashleigh Aitken’s 29.4 percent. The Disney-backed Republican mayoral candidate felt confident enough in the margin to issue a statement in the early morning hours. “I am honored and thrilled to lead the charge in unifying our city once again,” says Sidhu. “The residents of Anaheim know that it’s time to move past the divisiveness and get back to working with all residents, businesses, and workforce that make Anaheim what it is today.”

Sure thing, Harry…

District elections didn’t get in the way of Disney’s big night. They added two more victories. Anaheim Hills took its first crack at single-member district elections this year. With the highest voter turnout of any district, Republican Trevor O’Neil breezed through an easy victory over Patty Gaby, a Republican candidate endorsed by sitting mayor Tom Tait. Anaheim is now stuck with a wannabe Milton Friedman dweeb who’ll probably bore residents with his half-baked free market blabberings as he votes for government subsidies of private businesses. Good grief!

Out in West Anaheim, District 2 suffered from political neglect–go figure! No district-specific candidate forums were held despite Republican incumbent James Vanderbilt facing off against former councilman Jordan Brandman and activist gadfly Duane Roberts. Brandman, backed by Disney, leads all candidates with 40 percent of the vote. Vanderbilt self-funded his reelection bid and put up the biggest signs in the district but didn’t appear to campaign all that hard. Roberts, who ran on a platform of rent control and turning Tiger Woods’ old golf course into a big community park gained respectable 21 percent of the vote, despite lacking any party backing or much of a ground game. But pencil this one in for Pixar’s pals.

Like Sidhu, Brandman and O’Neil declared victory on social media.

Last but not least, Jose F. Moreno bucked the trend in Central Anaheim’s District 3 by handily defeating Colony candidate and fellow Democrat Mitch Caldwell. The reelection victory amounts to a mini-mandate with Moreno claiming 50 percent of the vote against his Disney-backed opponent and good government Republican Robert Nelson. It may give the councilman enough gravitas to consider a mayoral run in four years, but with Tait’s legacy of opposing corporate subsidies now toast after Vanderbilt, Gaby, Aitken and mayoral candidate Cynthia Ward fell short on election night, the next two years are going to be unkind.

Despite Tait’s outgoing 4-3 council majority, the mayor’s putting on a classy face in congratulating all the winners. “Thank you to all the candidates who entered the arena for a worthy cause,” he stated on Facebook this morning. “I wish you all the very best as you work together to address the important issues facing our great city.”

After ashes settle, Disney can boast a firm 5-2 council majority. Sidhu, O’Neil, and Brandman join incumbents Lucille Kring and Stephen Faessel. It’s also a majority white and Republican council for a majority Latino city, district elections and its arguments for more Latino representation be damned. Not this time, Anaheim.

Measure L in mural form. Photo by Gabriel San Roman

The other battle front against Disney came in the form of Measure L, a ballot initiative that proposed a living wage scale rising to $18 an hour by 2022 for Anaheim Resort workers at corporations who have tax rebate agreements with the city. Disney surprised political observers over the summer when it asked Anaheim to terminate two such agreements: a $267 million bed-tax break for a planned luxury hotel and a decades-long entertainment tax ban.

That allowed the Machiavellian Mouse to begin turning the tide of momentum in its favor. The principal author of Measure L argued, in the wake of the terminated deals, that bond financing for expanding the Disneyland Resort in 1996 qualified as a tax rebate, since the Mouse’s taxes continue to get diverted from Anaheim’s general fund to pay for public infrastructure improvements. Robert Fabela, Anaheim’s city attorney, authored a legal opinion that Disney isn’t subjected to the measure under its defined terms.

Add in settled contracts with five major unions over the summer that brought wages up considerably, and Disney seemed in a good position to whittle down the popularity of the living wage measure following its surge in early June. That’s what became apparent on Election Night. Measure L clung to a slim lead, but the opposition gained the upper hand close to midnight. By the time all precincts were reported, Measure L regained the lead by just 422 votes.

That’s a thin enough margin for opponents of the measure to say the vote is too close to call. “The No on Measure L campaign continues to monitor the election results carefully and are confident that in the end the results will show that voters saw through the misleading campaign of the special interests pushing Measure L and said no to this bad deal for our City,” says Todd Ament, president/CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. “There is a better way to improve the lives of workers in our City than with narrow and flawed policies like Measure L.”

Disney labor unions express confidence that their lead will hold after mail-in and provisional ballots are received and counted. “We are encouraged with the trends we’ve seen,” says Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, a member of the Coalition of Resort Labor Unions. “As we see these provisional ballots, we still have a few days ahead of us. We talked to over 35,000 Anaheim voters. We’re going to push through and feel good at this point about it.”

If the final tally ends up in Measure L’s favor, it opens up the question if the new minimum wage standards really do apply to the Disneyland Resort, one that’ll undoubtedly have to find its answer in the courts. That may be an arena where the Mouse claims its final victory from the 2018 elections.

In the meantime, with Disney’s deep pockets, one thing’s for sure: it’ll take more than district elections to pounce the Mouse.

4 Replies to “The Mouse Strikes Back: Disney Dominates Anaheim Elections”

  1. >> It’s also a majority white and Republican council for a majority Latino city, district elections and its arguments for more Latino representation be damned. Not this time, Anaheim.<<

    Let's see, we had an immigrant minority win the Mayor's seat over a Rich, White Blonde Witch. Heck, if folks supported the other Democrat, you could have Had a Latina Mayor.

    District 2 and 6 candidates supported by Mayor Tait/UNITE HERE also were white, or should I say non-Persons of Color.

    But then, it isn't really about race, but what that person political thoughts are, right?

    1. If folks supported Galloway, they would’ve had a Filipina mayor, not Latina.

      As for District 2 and 6, James Vanderbilt is Latino by way of his Peruvian mother. Unite Here offered no endorsements in both of those districts, a signal of the emphasis on Aitken’s mayoral campaign.

      Democrats don’t escape blame here. Four out of their six major candidates were gabachos! With Denise Barnes and Harry Sidhu, Republicans have more color on council.

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