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Irvine Mayor Donald Wagner Makes Strong Showing in O.C. Supervisor special election

Photo courtesy of Donald Wagner

Following last week’s special election, Irvine Mayor Donald P. Wagner appears to have won the vacant seat representing the Third District on the Orange County Board of Supervisors. As of 5 p.m. on March 15, Wagner held a 3,518 vote lead (42 percent to 37.1 percent) over former U.S. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. According to the Orange County Registrar of Voters, there are only an estimated 48 ballots left to count.

The supervisorial seat was left vacant when former Supervisor Todd Spitzer was elected Orange County District Attorney last November. The Third District covers parts of Irvine, Mission Viejo and Anaheim Hills as well as Orange, Tustin, North Tustin, Yorba Linda, Villa Park and some of unincorporated O.C.

By law, the county supervisor position is nonpartisan, although Wagner, a Republican, was endorsed by the Republican Party of Orange County, while Sanchez, a Democrat, was endorsed by her respective Orange County chapter. Only one Democrat has been elected to sit on the Orange County Board of Supervisors in the last decade, Supervisor Doug Chaffee, who was elected last November. While the position is technically nonpartisan, many view the outcome of this election as a potential precursor to what may occur in 2020. Some wanted to see a continuation of the “blue wave” of last November, while others hoped to see the GOP retake the reins of Orange County politics.

Prior to his role as mayor of Irvine, Wagner served six years in the California state Assembly. Before that he also sat on the South Orange County Community College Board of Trustees for three terms, including six years as board president. Wagner was elected mayor of Irvine in 2016, and again in 2018.

Wagner, now just at the beginning of his second term as mayor of Irvine, will need to step down from his position in order to take on this new role of Orange County supervisor. So, what will happen to the vacant seat?

According to a recent city ordinance (No. 19-01, Section 1-2-213) passed by the City Council on February 12, 2019 (just in time to go into effect for the special election), “Should the Office of Mayor become vacant during his or her term of office, the Mayor Pro Tempore shall become the Mayor for the remainder of the mayoral term.” This means that Mayor Pro Tem Christina L. Shea is in line for the mayor’s seat once again following Wagner’s vacancy. Shea previously held the position of mayor of Irvine from 1996 to 2000, and has served as an Irvine council member for the majority of the last two decades.

In order to fill the vacant City Council seat left open by one of the council member’s transition to mayor, the City Council can make an appointment within 60 days (Ordinance 19-01, Section 1-2-201). However, in this case, the general public could potentially have more say. If the voters of the city create a petition signed by at least 7 percent of the voting population and delivered to the City Clerk within 30 days of the notice of vacancy, the vacancy must be filled via special election. If Irvine voters fail to create this petition, power to fill the open seat will remain in the hands of the council.

Wagner will be sworn in to his new role as supervisor on either March 26 or April 9, and will hold the seat for approximately 21 months (the remainder of the current term), with the possibility of re-election in 2020.

Editor’s Note: This article is based on the vote count at press time last Friday, March 15, before the final count was certified.