Finalized Results Show Calvin Ousted Richard In SB’s 6th Ward

While the margin was less than overwhelming, Kimberly Calvin, the challenger in the March 3 contest for councilwoman in San Bernardino’s Sixth Ward, has displaced incumbent Bessine Littlefield Richard, according to the final certified tally of votes released on Wednesday.
Richard was originally elected to the council in a runoff in February 2016 following the November 2015 election when San Bernardino, then functioning under its 1905 charter, held its elections in odd-numbered years. This time around Richard lost, displaced in last month’s contest by a mere 18 votes.
According to the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Office, Calvin polled 1,446 votes or 50.31 percent to outdistance Richard, who captured 1,428 votes or 49.69 percent. Richard, or anyone, can contest the outcome and ask for a recount, but would need to pay roughly $10,000 to have the elections office reexamine the results. At press time, no such request, which must go through the San Bernardino city clerk, had been made. The deadline for such a request will elapse at 5 p.m. Monday, April 6.
Whereas previously the council members’ and mayors’ terms in office in San Bernardino ran from March in even-numbered years to March in an even-numbered year four years later, with the charter changeover that has been effectuated in San Bernardino, council and mayoral terms now conclude in December of even-numbered years. Thus, Richard will remain in her Sixth Ward post until December, such that she will have had a four-year-and-nine-month tenure in office when she departs. Her time in office was filled with a number of remarkable events. Though decisions with regard to privatizing the city’s sanitation division and transferring what had previously been the municipal fire department to the County of San Bernardino and its fire protection division occurred prior to Richard coming into office, those transitions were fully effectuated after she was in place. In 2016, a majority of the city’s residents participating in the November election voted to replace the city charter that had been in force since 1905 with a revamped version of the city’s constitution and operating plan that essentially did away with the strong mayor form of government that the city had abided by for more than a century, and replaced it with a council-city manager form of governance. In 2017, the city, which had filed for Chapter Nine protection in 2012, emerged from that bankruptcy pursuant to a recovery plan accepted by the council that included Richard.
Early on, even prior to her 2016 election, Richard had formed a political alliance with John Valdivia, then the city’s Third Ward councilman. Valdivia had lent her support when she first ran for the council, and they had, if not identical, then very similar voting patterns while they both served from 2016 until 2018 under the administration of former Mayor Carey Davis. In 2018, Valdivia successfully challenged Davis for the mayoralty, and Richard supported Valdivia in his campaign. When Valdivia acceded to the mayor’s post, Richard emerged as one of the members of Valdivia’s ruling coalition, and he sought, at first successfully, to use her support and that of a majority of the council in an effort to undo many of the 2016 city charter reforms that had limited the mayor’s administrative power. Part of Valdivia’s approach in this regard was to beef up the mayor’s staff, which entailed growing those working at City Hall answerable directly to him from a single mayoral chief of staff and a secretary to a complement of nine employees he oversaw.
There were excesses, however, in the manner in which Valdivia used the authority entrusted to him, and earlier this year, a scandal broke out into the open in which at first two women, and then eventually six individuals altogether, all of whom had formerly been among Valdivia’s closest associates at City Hall, accused him of a variety of wrongdoing, ranging from genderist comments to sexual harassment to abusive behavior, drunkenness, misuse or misappropriation of public facilities, personnel and money, as well as bribe taking. Those six included five members of Valdivia’s mayoral staff and a city commissioner Valdvia had nominated and whom Richard, along with the remainder of the council, had appointed by vote.
The advent of the mayoral scandal proved problematic to Richard for a number of reasons. During the run-up to the election last fall, Valdivia had openly endorsed Richard, which at the time was considered to be an advantage to her. Valdivia’s assistance included having his campaign consultant, Chris Jones, assist her in her reelection quest. Jones provided more than just electioneering advice, helping her tap into a wellspring of campaign donors Jones often networks with in the campaigns for his clients. But the revelations about Valdivia, in particular the pay-to-play ethos that attended his alleged bribe-taking, tainted Richard, whose support for Valdivia’s positions during the public portions of the city council meetings was widely recognized. Moreover, other members of the city council who had once supported Valdivia were beginning to defect from his political camp. Information emerged indicating that Richard had not merely supported Valdvia on routine council agenda items but that during the closed sessions of the council she was “blindly” following the mayor and serving as an automatic vote for him and his machinations.
When Jones conducted polling as the election campaign got under way, it was seen that Calvin had name recognition and positive name identification rivaling that of Richard. At that point, the Richard campaign went negative, sending out on its own or utilizing a so-called independent expenditure committee to put out political “hit pieces” attacking Calvin. That strategy did not work, however, as a large cross section of the voters saw the attack mailers as a below-the-belt tactic by Richard, made all the worse by her association with the now discredited Valdivia.
In January, a by-then clearly panicking Valdivia, sensing that Richard’s campaign was in trouble and that her defeat would mean his losing whatever hope he still entertained of remaining as a viable political entity as mayor, made a $2,000 transfer from his own campaign fund to Richard’s electioneering war chest to give his ally a final boost as the election was approaching.
That, too, redounded to Richard’s disadvantage, as many voters saw that as an indication Richard was and would remain one of Valdivia’s puppets.
The night of the election, and over the five following days, it appeared that Richard had outlasted Calvin, albeit by a very slim margin. Just after the polls had closed, Richard had garnered 510 of the 1,017 votes that had come in, with Calvin claiming three fewer, 507. As of 6:30 the next morning, by which time 1,950 votes had been counted, Richard had opened up a slightly more substantial lead, with 983 votes to Calvin’s 961.
By Friday of that week, Calvin had closed the gap to just seven votes. Richard at that point claimed 1,232 votes or 50.14 percent, as Calvin nipped at her heels with 1,225 votes or 49.86 percent.
The following Monday, Calvin leapt past Richard by 11 votes. In all subsequent counts, Calvin remained ahead. Later in the week following the election, Calvin laid claim to 1,365 votes, compared to Richard’s 1,343.
In the intervening time, Richard gained back some ground, but not enough to regain the lead.
Calvin expressed to the Sentinel some resentment over the way in which Richard had allowed Jones, an extension of the now foundering Valdivia political machine, to conduct a negative campaign against her. She said she was tempted to respond in kind, but had been talked out of doing so by her political supporters.
Calvin does not come across now as inclined to assist Valdivia in his effort to reestablish the short-lived dominance over the city he enjoyed last year with Richard in his camp.
Calvin told the Sentinel she intends to serve the constituency of the Sixth Ward, where she, her father and her grandmother were born and where one of her aunts on her mother’s side built an apartment complex in the early 1980s, in a way that will “honor those in my family who are still living and those who have transitioned.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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