Laguna Council Incumbents Retain Seats

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By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent

Laguna Beach voters re-elected two incumbents in the four-way race for its open City Council seats, according to election results from all of the city’s 22 precincts early Wednesday morning.

Mayor Steve Dicterow, left, remains stoic while others react to returns at an election night party Nov. 8.
Mayor Steve Dicterow, left, remains stoic while others react to returns at an election night party Nov. 8.

Totals show Dicterow garnered 4,056 votes or 25.5% of the vote over Rollinger’s 23.7% with 3,771. Incumbent Bob Whalen easily retained his council seat as top-vote earner with 5,239 or 32.9% of the vote.  Newcomer candidate Judie Mancuso trailed with 2,857 votes or 17.9% to finish last.

Tuesday night, in a room cast in red from the big-screen TV that increasingly predicted a national Trump takeover, Dicterow’s tense body language signaled he knew his own race was not a sure thing. He remained stoically fixed on the screen as most of his supporters, who joined him and school board candidate Howard Hills at Mozambique restaurant, chattered with excitement about the Republican rout in the presidential race. Through a blur of hugs and smiles at the festivities, Dicterow remained stone-faced.

“It was a long, stressful evening. You never know what it’s going to be and try not to have any expectations and it created a lot of stress for me,” Dicterow says. “Obviously I am very happy to have won.”

Dicterow, a fiscal conservative who opposed putting local Measure LL and its tax hike on the ballot, faced attacks over his own personal finances and 2014 bankruptcy during the election.

Mancuso and others accused Dicterow of failing to tell voters about his personal bankruptcy and questioned his personal finance and business losses as a reflection on his ability to manage city finances as a council member. When asked if he thought the personal accusations were to blame for his race’s tight marginal win, Dicterow says he doesn’t have an answer.  “I will leave that for others to speculate.  I really don’t know.”

The Fair Political Practices Commission enforcement division chief Galena West confirmed opening an investigation into a complaint against Dicterow on Nov. 3. The complaint filed by local resident Michael Morris alleges Dicterow failed to properly disclose property he owns in Laguna Woods since his election in 2012.

He declined to comment on the inquiry until it reaches its conclusion.

Dicterow moved past the allegations and focused his campaign on public safety, preserving property rights and maintaining Laguna Beach’s character.  He says Tuesday night’s win, though narrow, has him looking ahead with confidence and moving beyond the personal spotlight on his campaign.

“One of the things that came through for me this election is hearing that many people in town think we are doing more for the tourists than the residents. The council needs to make sure everyone in town knows it’s residents first,” Dicterow says.  “Number one for me is public safety.”

Verna Rollinger
Verna Rollinger

Rollinger, a former city council member and longtime city clerk seeking to return to office, literally gave Dicterow a run for his money. She only followed Whalen in fundraising, with the second highest largest campaign war chest raising $31,807, with more financial support coming from backing by Village Laguna.  But in the eleventh hour, it wasn’t enough.

“I am disappointed of course, but we had a fabulous campaign,” Rollinger says. “I congratulate Bob and Steve on their victories.  It’s not easy to win a seat when all of the incumbents are running.”

Rollinger sought a more responsive council and stronger voice for residents, citing inappropriate development in neighborhoods and city staff turnover as hot-button issues.  She seemed satisfied that the newly elected councilmen listened during her campaign.

“I think that they both were receptive to the notion that residents in Laguna Beach are not getting what they want.  We are going to continue to work with the city to make sure everyone’s voice is heard and we get the best results for the entire community,” Rollinger says.  “We sent a lot of messages that were received very well.”

City Council candidate Bob Whalen, who was re-elected, among backers at an election night party.
City Council candidate Bob Whalen, who was re-elected, among backers at an election night party.

Whalen, the landslide victor in the race, was the lone candidate vocal about supporting measure LL, a hike in the bed tax that passed, estimated to tip $2 million into the city’s treasury annually for unspecified projects. He was also vocally against measure KK, which would have repealed a ban on medicinal marijuana dispensaries in Laguna Beach.

With a wide smile, Whalen watched vote tallies from those two measures and his own race come in at his gathering of supporters at Seven Degrees on Laguna Canyon Road.

“To get re-elected it tells you you must be doing something right,” Whalen says. “I want to thank the community. To be on council has been a very rewarding experience.”

Whalen is ready to move past campaign-mode and has a list of things he wants the council to continue working on. Number one on his list: burying utility lines to lower fire risk.

“Undergrounding as a fire safety issue and a public safety issue and we really have to do that as a community,” Whalen says.  “We have to figure out a plan that will get the rest of the community underground. It’s really all about fire safety. That’s pretty important to me,” he says.

Judie Mancuso anxiously watches election returns at the local Democratic Club headquarters on Tuesday, Nov. 9.
Judie Mancuso anxiously watches election returns at the local Democratic Club headquarters on Tuesday, Nov. 9.

At the Democratic headquarters, first time candidate Judie Mancuso watched the national results come in at a much more somber setting.  Mancuso’s campaign focused on managing city funding for public safety, fire prevention and preserving open spaces.  She says though she’s disappointed in her last-place loss, she feels something came of her campaign.

“I did what I set out to do by raising the issues, by not only getting them talked about but also getting them addressed,” Mancuso says.  “When I first got in Bob and Steve had a sub-committee to make short term rentals work, and when I got in the race and they saw the political winds were against it, all of a sudden they were against it. So we got rid of short-term rentals. Sober living homes, that wasn’t on their radar whatsoever. Now they have got to step up and do something.”

In the latest campaign contribution disclosure reports, ending Oct. 22, Whalen led the charge in donations with $43,297. Rollinger raised $31,807, helped by an additional $25,000 in spending on her behalf and that of incumbent Treasurer Laura Parisi from Village Laguna. Dicterow came in a close third with $30,750 in contributions. Mancuso trailed with $18,396.

Whalen and Dicterow will be sworn in for four-year terms as council members at the Dec. 13 meeting.  At that time, the council will also appoint a new mayor. Current mayor pro tem, Toni Iseman, is in line for the task.

Dicterow says Tuesday’s margin made him realize how much every single vote counts.  “I worked really hard and went door-to-door every day and it turned out it’s a good thing I did. It was close until the end,” Dicterow said.  “I got about four hours of sleep.”

 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Verna and Village Laguna spent a total of $56,807 on an attempt to get her re-elected for the second time. Two things I ponder and want to address: (1) how fed up are the citizens of Laguna Beach with Village Laguna when they outspent everyone but still failed to get their puppet elected; and (2) super thankful that no amount of money was able to get Village Laguna another seat in this City.

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