SB Voters Bounce All 3 Council Incumbents Running This Year

As of the latest tally of votes released by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters, all three incumbents on the San Bernardino City Council up for election this year will be turned out of office.
In the March 3 Primary Election, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Bessine Richard was narrowly defeated by Kimberly Calvin outright in a two-woman race, with the incumbent polling 1,428 votes or 49.69 percent to the challenger’s 1,446 votes or 50.31 percent. In the Seventh Ward, Councilman Jim Mulvihill captured second place with 1,066 votes or 28.06 percent to challenger Damon Alexander’s 1,236 votes or 32.53 percent. Fifth District Councilman Henry Nickel ran in a strong first place in the March race, capturing 1,802 votes or 35.45 percent. His strongest opponent proved to be Ben Reynoso, with 1,295 votes or 25.48 percent.
Because no candidate in the Fifth or Seventh Ward captured a majority of the vote, per the city charter a run-off was forced between the two top vote-getters.
Going into the November 3 races, Nickel seemed poised for victory, based upon his incumbency, superior name recognition and fundraising advantage. He had been in office since 2013, had been reelected in 2015, and had gained further name recognition by two runs for State office in the last decade, including running for Assembly in the 40th District in 2018. He had collected $57,802.64 in contributions for his reelection campaign since January 1 through October 17, which was added to the $4,536 he had in his electioneering fund when the year began. Conversely, Reynoso’s sole contributions through October 17 totaled $15,116.96.
Mulvihill’s path to reelection appeared to be somewhat more challenging than Nickel’s, as his second place finish 170 votes and 4.47 percent behind Alexander despite his greater name recognition and incumbency appeared to be an indication of some level of either voter discontent with him or strength on Alexander’s part, or both. Mulvihill had funding of $56,945.42 that he collected throughout the year right up until November 3, including $40,000 in loans he made to himself, along with $6,756.21 in his campaign coffers he started with on January 1. Alexander collected $22,320 from January 1 until October 17, including a $1,000 loan he made to himself, added to the $850 he started out with in his campaign war chest at the beginning of the year.
In the course of both the Nickel/Reynoso and Mulvihill/Alexander races, there was a showing of negative campaigning, with attack ads surfacing. Paradoxically, the attack ads had opposite effects in the two races. Mulvihill and Reynoso found themselves the targets of multiple hit pieces, which ostensibly did not originate with the Alexander nor the Nickel campaigns but emanated from what purported to be an independent expenditure committee, Californians For A Better Future, headquartered at 9070 Irvine Center Drive #150 Irvine, CA 92618, run by JenEve Slater. One of the hit pieces targeting Mulvihill was apparently sent out to all high propensity voters in the Seventh Ward, alleging without any substantiation that Mulvihill “violated the law” and engaged in “corrupt behavior,” in that he was “caught illegally lobbying on council votes.” The hit piece further alleged Mulvihill was tied to “pot shop owner Merv Simchowitz,” who, the flier duly noted, made a $3,000 contribution to Mulvihill’s campaign. Another hit piece originating with Californians For A Better Future and Slater was sent exclusively to high propensity Democrats in the Seventh District, charging Mulvihill with “racism” and “corruption,” and in which Mulvihill’s relationship with Simchowitz was again referenced. The mailer further accused Mulvihill of being a “Trump supporter,” based on his use of John Lightburn as his campaign manager. Lightburn, the flier states is an “ultra-conservative Trump supporter.”
Unmentioned in either of the hit pieces targeting Mulvihill was that Alexander, a former special agent with the U.S. Department of Justice, received money from Mark Estermeyer, the owner/operator of AM-PM Mgmt., which does business as Cold Creek Organics, a marijuana cultivator and retailer, and that Alexander is, like President Donald Trump, a Republican, and that he was provided with campaign money by a coterie of Republicans, including ones in the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, and was supported by the San Bernardino County Central Committee, which included an endorsement of Alexander in one of its slate mailers. Nor did the mailer attacking Mulvihill mention that the federal government and its Justice Department, which employed Alexander, considers marijuana and cannabis to be illegal narcotics, despite their having been legalized for medical and recreational use in California. An attorney, Ben Eilenberg, in court papers has alleged that Estermeyer, AM-PM Mgmt. and Cold Creek Organics have provided inducements to city officials that are tantamount to bribes. That was not mentioned in the mailer, either.
Californians For A Better Future and Slater were also responsible for hit pieces assailing Reynoso which began landing in the mailboxes of Fifth Ward voters in the final month of the election season.
According to those mailers, Reynoso was involved in the Black Lives Matter movement and is in favor of defunding the police department. The mailers also raised questions about Reynoso’s true residency, and whether he actually lives in the Fifth District.
While some voters in the Seventh Ward may have perceived the hit pieces targeting Mulvihill to be spurious cheap shots, the mailers appear to have been effective in winging Mulvihill and did no damage, by extension, to Alexander. As of 4 a.m. Wednesday morning November 4, when all 16 of the precincts in the Seventh Ward had reported and been counted along with the mail-in votes that had arrived by that point, Alexander had logged 3,059 votes or 63.54 percent, Mulvihill had received 1,675 votes, or 35.34 percent, with six write-in votes for neither candidate. It does not appear that incoming votes thereafter, consisting primarily of straggling mail-in ballots, will be sufficient to overturn Alexander’s lead.
Unlike the case in the Seventh Ward, however, the attack ads in the Fifth Ward did not appear to have the effect those responsible for them intended, but rather redounded to Nickel’s detriment, having been seen by at least some of the voters as an inappropriate tactic which was less than convincing in terms of discouraging voters from supporting Reynoso. Indeed, to some extent, the invective in the mailers was taken as something that rather than damaging Reynoso, reflected negatively on Nickel.
Moreover, the Nickel campaign did not adequately anticipate the support that Reynoso counted upon and received from students at Cal State San Bernardino who walked precincts for Reynoso, and Reynoso’s own determination in walking precincts himself.
At 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, when the first report of the vote tallying was made by the registrar of voters office, eleven of the Fifth Ward’s twelve precincts had reported and the mail-in votes received up until that time were counted. Nickel was up by a razor thin margin, 2,494 votes or 50.25 percent to Reynoso’s 2,469 votes or 49.75 percent, a difference of 25 votes.
At the next update, which did not take place until 4 a.m. on November 4, all 12 of the precincts had reported and any further mail-in votes were tallied. Since the previous count, Nickel picked up 441 votes, for a total of 2,935. Reynoso had added 547 votes, moving his total at that point to 3,016, ahead of Nickel by 81.
At 4 p.m. on November 4, Reynoso’s vote count had grown to 3,205 or 50.78 percent to Nickel’s 3,103 votes or 49.16 percent, which widened the gap to 102 votes.
On Thursday November 5 at 4 p.m. when the totals were posted reflecting the incoming ballots over the previous 24 hours, Reynoso’s lead was shrinking somewhat. The challenger had 3,511 votes or 50.51 percent to Nickel’s 3,436 votes or 49.43 percent, a difference of 55 votes.
Today, Friday November 6 at 4 p.m., Reynoso’s grip on the lead had tightened, as he is now 86 votes in front of Nickel. Reynoso as of today claimed 3,650 votes or 50.58 percent to Nickel’s 3,564 votes or 49.39 percent.
Nickel on Thursday told the Sentinel that he had nothing to do with the hit pieces sent out by Californians For A Better Future and Slater.
“That was a PAC [political action committee] out of Irvine,” he said. “There are PACs supporting me. That is something I can’t control. It has been a very civil campaign between the two of us, Ben and me. I have not been disrespectful of Ben, nor he of me. I don’t believe in negative campaigning. I’m someone who votes for somebody rather than against someone.”
Nevertheless, Nickel said, the issues raised in the mailers sent out by Californians For A Better Future were valid ones.
“This is a Democratic district, but these are by and large conservative Democrats,” Nickel said. “They are homeowners. They are not progressive Democrats who want to defund the police department. They want more cops on the street rather than less. Many of them were, and I know because I have spoken directly with them, horrified by the mobs that were destroying and looting buildings in this city on May 31 and June 1. So you have a PAC composed of concerned business owners and those who are interested in public safety, and they felt it was appropriate to point out that Ben is a member of Black Lives Matter and is calling for defunding the police, as is their right.”
Asked point blank if the strident attacks on Reynoso by the Californians For A Better Future might have offended certain elements of the Fifth District’s voters, Nickel responded, “Was I hurt by that? Maybe.”
Nickel, a Republican who bore the GOP standard in an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for Assemblyman in the 40th District against James Ramos in 2018, said the Fifth District race did not hinge on local issues germane to the City of San Bernardino or the Fifth Ward. Rather, he said, he and Reynoso were caught in a “war between business candidates and the labor council.”
In essence, Nickel said, in San Bernardino politics, California politics and national politics, a division has formed between the business community and the Republicans on one side and the Democratic Party and the unions on the other. Both have their tactics, Nickel asserted, as each vies for political control. He said the Republicans and the business community play hard and work to win, using ruthless but what are essentially still the same fair, legal and constitutional means. The unions, bolstered by the Democrats, Nickel said, are loading the dice, and cheating to achieve victory.
In this way, he said, the Democratic-backed candidates are being assisted by unionized employees who have taken over the machinery of elections and are stuffing ballot boxes in favor of the Democrats. He said he believes that is how Reynoso, a political neophyte, has taken the lead in the Fifth Ward race.
He said the very fact that Reynoso had been allowed into the race was an indictment of the process. No verification of Reynoso’s eligibility had been carried out when he took out papers to run for the council, Nickel maintained. “There is a huge question as to whether he lives in the Fifth Ward,” Nickel said. “The city charter requires that candidates establish residency 30 days prior to the initiation of their candidacy. There was never any proof submitted that he was a Fifth District resident prior to the race. There is no record of him voting in the Fifth Ward.”
Worse still, Nickel said, is that the county’s election workers are militating in favor of the candidates favored by the union that represents them, the Teamsters. The favoritism being shown to Reynoso by the county’s election workers is a reflection of that, he said.
“The people running our election system are endorsing candidates,” Nickel said. “There is something very wrong with that. There are PACS that supported me. But this is a tale of two PACS. The other PAC, which is supporting my opponent, are those who are carrying out, are running the election itself. You saw that in the first reporting of precincts I was ahead. Then at the next posting report, a bundle of ballots shows up out of nowhere. At the one Fifth Ward precinct where you have the heaviest concentration of Republican voters, they were given felt markers. The ink from the felt markers was bleeding through the ballots. We are concerned those ballots will be thrown out. This is exposing a very broken election system.”
Nickel said, “I anticipate I will be asking for a recount. We are going to want signature verification. We are concerned about whether some of the ballots are valid. We need a voting mechanism we can trust. County employees who are members of the union that endorsed candidates in the race, who have themselves endorsed candidates in the race, including my opponent, are running the election and counting the ballots. That has corrupted the way we do business in electing our government officials, or at least cast a great shadow over our government and future elections.”
Despite the very real prospect that he was to be turned out of office, Nickel said, he was pleased that in this election the city’s voters had come down in favor of Measure S, which is to provide the city, which declared bankruptcy in 2012 and exited that status in 2017 but has seen its reserves depleting alarmingly ever since, with a one percent sales tax enhancement. With 39,810 ballots from San Bernardino voters counted as of today, Measure S was up with 22,659 votes or 56.92 percent in favor of it over 17,151 votes against it or 43.08 percent.
It is anticipated that Measure S will translate to an additional $27 million in revenue to the city each year.
“I am not in favor of adding to the tax burden on our residents unless it is absolutely necessary, but I believe the passage of Measure S might be the most important thing that has occurred in the city while I have been on the council,” Nickel said.
-Mark Gutglueck

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