Media narratives can be powerful things, which is why politicians and interests seeking to influence public debate try to craft clever narratives. It’s why the winners of elections always try to claim a “mandate,” whether they won by a landslide or squeaked out an electoral college win while losing the popular vote by millions.
In Anaheim, it’s why the progressives who fought for the Tait-Moreno Council majority like to spin the narrative of “The People’s Council” – the contention that the results of the 2016 elections revealed a voter revolt against Disney and the Resort and claimed mandate to advance the interests of the residents over tourist-serving businesses. It’s a claim that’s been advanced repeatedly for months in news articles by members of the current council majority.
It captures the imagination of progressive activists and their media sympathizers, but did it actually happen? A sober examination of the facts shows no evidence of such a mandate; if anything, the Tait-Moreno majority was a narrow fluke on the scale of Trump’s electoral college win.
For starters, the narrowness by which the “People’s Council” – i.e. the Tait-Moreno council majority – came into being argues against the idea of Anaheim voters turning against the Resort area. Denise Barnes won District 1 with a 291-vote margin, while Jose F, Moreno squeaked out a win in District 3 by 72 votes. In other words, the Tait-Moreno majority materialized on the basis of 363 votes – 0.68% of the total votes cast citywide.
It’s absurd to divine any kind of mandate out of a rounding error.
The narrative further collapses upon examination of the results on a district-by-district basis.
In District 1, Barnes finished first with 27.3% of the vote – carrying barely more than a quarter of District 1 voters. Three of her opponents who were explicitly supportive of the Resort – Steve Chavez Lodge, Leonard Lahtinen and Orlando Perez – garnered 52.6% of the vote. Furthermore, Tait ally Howard Ahmanson spent thousands of dollars attacking Lodge for his support for pro-Resort policies such at the Hotel Incentive Policy (which Lahtinen also supported) and also tried to paint Barnes as the only pro-neighborhood candidate with Lodge and Lahtinen as anti-neighborhood, pro-Resort toadies.
So, a majority of District 1 voters supported pro-Resort candidates. How is that a rejection of Disney and the Resort District? Barnes’ election and performance since election show she’s truly the “accidental Council Member.”
Let’s look at District 3. Moreno took 36% to incumbent Jordan Brandman’s 35.4%. The district was literally hadn-drawn to elect Jose Moreno to the Anaheim City Council, the end result of the two-year push for single-member districts and then the push for District 3 to be on the ballot in 2016.
A 72-vote win, nearly 3 weeks after Election Day was Moreno’s mandate. Moreno ran hard on an anti-Disney platform charging that Anaheim neighborhoods were being short-changed in favor of the Anaheim Resort. Brandman was pummeled for supporting “taxpayer giveaways” for “corporate special interests.”
If the “Anaheimers-turn-against-Disney” narrative were valid, Moreno should have won a convincing victory rather than lucking out with a 0.6% margin. Moreno drafted off the massive statewide coordinated Democratic campaign – which locally was focused on central OC in order to elect Josh Newman in SD29 and Sharon Quirk-Silva in AD65. The Democrats ran up huge registration gains in large part thanks to $150,000 from billionaire Tom Steyer, and a very sophisticated turnout operation. This effort amplified the effect of Trump-driven Latino voter turnout to the benefit of Moreno.
If the November election indeed represented a backlash against Disney and the Resort, it stands to reason the manifestation would have been strongest in District 4, which contains the Resort District. However, Councilwoman Lucille Kring was elected with 42.3% compared to 29.7% for the Team Tait candidate, Arturo Ferreras. Kring was lacerated repeatedly over the course of her first term for supporting TOT tax rebates incentives to attract luxury hotels to the Resort. She never muted her suport for these deals. Ferreras campaign heavily against “giveaways” and in favor of banning STRs – another political hobby horse of Team Tait coalition member UNITE-HERE, the militant hotel workers union.
Yet, Kring won re-election running away. Where was the backlash?
And the same dynamic played out in District 5, where Steve Faessel faced off against Team Tait candidate Mark Lopez. Faessel supported the GardenWalk deal and the Hotel Incentive Policy. Lopez, a Latino running in a Latino-plurality district, ran on the Team Tait platform blasting those policies. Independent expenditures funded by Tait donor Howard Ahmanson slammed Faessel as a supporter of “taxpayer giveaways” to Disney and Resort businesses. Faessel won District 5 handily, garnering 42.7% of the vote compared to just 34.9%. Faessel received more votes than any other candidate for City Council running on a pro-“Anaheim” agenda. Again, where was the anti-Disney backlash?
The best explanation is the simplest and most obvious one: most voters don’t share the Tait-Moreno coalition’s antagonism toward Disney and the Resort and are far more concerned with issues that directly touch their lives like crime, homelessness, repairing roads and maintaining parks for the enjoyment of the public.
If there was deep resentment toward Disney and the Resort roiling among the Anaheim electorate, Moreno and Barnes would have won decisively rather than narrowly, while Kring and Faessel would have lost rather than winning overwhelmingly. The November elections were a very near-run thing: a shift of 36 votes in District 3 and the Anaheim City Council would still have a majority supportive of “Anaheim Way,” public-private partnership economic development projects.
Without a doubt, Team Tait succeeded in threading the needle and eking out a council majority. However, there were many factors at play, not least of which was the massive, integrated Democratic campaign effort in central Orange County. It’s doubtful Moreno could have upset Brandman absent those dynamics.
The final proof in the pudding? The complete lack of conviction with which Moreno has pursued his signature issues – making Anaheim a “sanctuary city” and his bold claim to want to end Anaheim’s anti-camping ordinance. A candidate riding a tidal wave of public opinion and mandate would pursue campaign rhetoric with direct and fearless action. Moreno instead is still “studying” both issues.
Add to that Moreno (and Tait) professing strongly not to be “Anti-Disney” nor “Anti-Resort” when that characterization is made, and you see the narrative of the “People” turning against the Resort is merely campaign fiction.