The weeks-long drama over the appointment of a mayor pro tem (MPT) ended with the appointment on January 9 of controversial District 3 Councilman Jose F. Moreno. Moreno, a left-wing Democrat, is up for re-election this year, and was given the politically valuable title by three Republicans – Mayor Tom Tait and Councilmembers Denise Barnes and James Vanderbilt.
The mayor pro tem presides at council meetings in the mayor’s absence, and often represents the mayor at events which the mayor can’t or won’t attend.
Prior to the MPT vote, the council unanimously approved a rotation policy prohibiting councilmembers from serving consecutive terms as mayor pro tem in order to ensure all councilmembers have the opportunity to serve. Councilmembers Kris Murray and Lucille Kring unsuccessfully sought to limit the rotation to councilmembers who are not up for re-election, in order to take the politics out of the position. The coucnil also directed staff to bring back potential policies to address the use of the MPT title for political purposes.
Republicans Boost Leftist Democrat’s Re-Election Prospects
The mayor pro tem saga has been bubbling since December 5, when Tait unsuccessfully nominated his ally Moreno for the position. While no addressed it directly, the reality underlying the drawn-out mayor pro tem saga was some councilmembers support Moreno’s re-election while others oppose it. Appointing him mayor pro tem helps him secure another term to pursue his ambitious progressive policy agenda.
Councilmember Barnes tried to defuse that argument by contending voters know what the mayor pro tem is and isn’t, implying the appointment would have no political impact. Moreno chimed in that he and others on the dias had used appointed positions in candidate statements and ballot titles.
James Vanderbilt, the out-going mayor pro tem, took an opposite tack:
It’s pretty clear I think if you’re on the school board of the planning commission or parks and rec or what have you and you’re the president or if you serve as the clerk and you’re not the president. The term mayor pro tem – I think it’s confusing. A lot of people ask me, “what does mayor pro tem mean?” And it sounds close enough to mayor that…it doesn’t provide the same kind of truth in advertising that some of the other positions state.
Vanderbilt’s point is on target. Many voters think the mayor is in charge of City Hall in some kind of executive capacity, and by association ascribe similar power and influence to the similar sounding mayor pro tem.
The vote unfolded without surprise. Vanderbilt nominated Moreno, and was joined by Tait and Barnes. Kring voted “no” while Murray and Steve Faessel abstained. Murray nomination of Faessel was defeated on a 3-1-2 vote: Tait and Moreno abstained, while Barnes voted against Faessel.
And if there were no political value to the title, there’d be no wrangling over it. Moreno was correct in stating the council is a political body, decisions like this are political ones that play a role in the political process. It is what it is.
Which lends an air of partisan political unreality to last week’s outcome. Moreno is primus inter pares of a years-long effort to build a progressive Democrat movement and operation in central Orange County – along with other hard-core progressives politicos like local school board members Al Jabbar, Ryan Ruelas, Jose Paolo Magcalas, Walter Muneton, Jackie Rodarte (also his council aide), former Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen. Suing Anaheim to impose by-district elections; teacher union-funded student political groups like AnaheimBROS and CROWN; introducing Ethnic Studies classes (aka progressive activist training class) into AUSHD schools; creating a city Youth Commission and stacking it with BROS and CROWN activists; working with radical groups like the New American Leaders Project to train progressive Democrats to run for local office in OC – all of it is part of building this political infrastructure for electing leftists.
They are building a machinery to defeat Republicans, elect leftist Democrats and implement progressive policies in Orange County. Anaheim – the largest, most important city in Orange County – is the big prize. A significant chunk of Tom Steyers $30 million voter mobilization campaign will be spent in north Orange County in coordination with this nascent political machine.
And three Anaheim City Council Republicans – Tait, Vanderbilt and Barnes – lent this progressive project a hand by boosting it’s leader’s re-election prospects with the mayor pro tem appointment. It’s like the British POWs helping the Japanese Army build the Bridge on the River Kwai – minus Alec Guinness’ “What have I done?” epiphany at the end of the movie.
Will it make the difference in Moreno’s re-election? Probably not, but who knows? Moreno was only elected by 72 votes. Last year, control of the lower house of the Virginia legislature was decided by a single vote in a single district. Council elections may be non-partisan, but the political goals of Moreno and Company are not. Why would any elected Republican give aid and comfort to the leader of a movement to make progressive, LA-style politics the dominant force in Orange County government?