Tuesday’s Vote Fates Three Incumbent SB City Council Members To December Departure

This week’s municipal election in the county seat did not resolve who, exactly, will accede to two of the four positions on the city council being contested this year, but nonetheless presages the departure of three incumbents.
As San Bernardino County’s largest city population-wise at 218,500, San Bernardino has the most populous city council as well, with seven elected council members representing seven wards, each answerable to one-seventh of the city’s residents, and a mayor elected at-large.
In California’s gubernatorial election years, the mayor and three members of the council are up for election. In presidential election years such as 2024, four members of the council or those who aspire to it – in Ward 3, Ward 5, Ward 6 and Ward 7 – face the judgment of the city’s voters.
In Ward 3, incumbent Juan Figueroa, who was first elected in a special election to fill in during the final years of John Valdivia’s unfinished term after the latter was elected mayor in 2018 and was reelected to his current term in 2020, successfully stood for reelection against challenger Christian Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy assailed Figueroa throughout the campaign as a vestige of the Valdivia regime. Valdivia lasted only four years as mayor, felled by repetitive reports of misdeeds, malfeasance and graft, which included taking substantial amounts of money in the form of both political donations and retainers for his services as a consultant. In 2022, in a race that featured seven candidates, Valdivia was shut out in the June primary, finishing third, such that he was not in the November 2022 runoff between the ultimate second place finisher, former City Attorney Jim Penman and the winner, Helen Tran, who at one point was the city’s human resources director while Valdivia was mayor.
Figueroa was able to withstand the slings and arrows that Shaughnessy vectored his way, prevailing, among the 1,589 votes cast by the 14,045 registered voters in the district and counted by this afternoon at 4 p.m. by a margin of 771 votes or 54.72 percent to Shaughnessy’s 638 votes or 45.28 percent. Of Figueroa’s total, 674 votes came in by mail ballot and 97 were registered at the polls. Shaugnessy captured 77 votes at the polling place and 638 by mail. Voter turnout in the Third Ward was 11.31 percent.
In the city’s Fifth Ward, incumbent Ben Reynoso, found himself in a rematch against the council member he had unseated in 2020, Henry Nickel. Also competing in this year’s race was former Councilman Chas Kelley, whom Nickel had succeeded in 2013; Rose Ward and Kim Knaus. Knaus is the sister to Mayor Tran’s executive assistant.
With ballots from 3,104 or 18.11 percent of the 17,139 registered voters in the Fifth Ward having been counted so far, Nickel and Knaus slammed the door shut on Reynoso, locking him out of the November 2024 runoff. Nickel garnered 767 votes or 26.36 percent for second place and Knaus gathered 1,053 votes or 36.19 percent for the top spot. Reynoso came in third at 570 votes or 19.59 percent. Kelley captured 401 votes for a 13.78 percent fourth place finish, followed by Ward with 119 votes or 4.09 percent. Nickel outdueled Knaus at the ward’s polling places, 152 votes to 149, but he lost lopsidedly to her on the mail-in ballots, 904 to 615.
Knaus is running with the support of Mayor Tran and the San Bernardino County Democratic Party. She even picked up the support of a member of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, Michelle Sabino, who represents the Third District as a member of the San Bernardino County GOP and is an active operative with the Inland Empire Business Alliance Political Action Committee. Since Nickel is a Republican and the Republican Central Committee’s bylaws prohibit a member of the Republican Central Committee from supporting a Democrat in any contest against a Republican, efforts are under way to boot Sabino out of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee. Whether that will assist Nickel in his effort to get back onto the city council in San Bernardino is yet to be determined.
It does appear that in this year’s election, based on multiple race results, the Democrats who in years past have been outhustled by Republicans in terms of efforts to drive members of their respective parties to the polls, that the Democrats are finally catching up, particularly in terms of convincing their party members to vote by mail.
Despite finishing behind Knaus, Nickel expressed confidence in looking toward the November election.
“Though we were significantly outspent almost 10 to 1, the voters spoke clearly. I self-funded this grassroots campaign against very well-funded establishment opposition,” Nickel told the Sentinel on Wednesday. “Coming from behind, we received the most election day votes. I like so many voters understood the stakes going in. Our city must move beyond the polarized dysfunction and corruption that got us into bankruptcy a decade ago.”
Nickel said, “We must elect competent, tested, and trusted representatives driven by a selfless collaborative commitment to our community. We can no longer tolerate special interests and wealthy outside donors dictating who we elect. We must put our homeowners and residents first. We must create a safe, clean, and prosperous city for all. It is time to end the city’s reputation for destructive bickering and deadlocked ego-driven conflict. We must unify behind a common vision of a revitalized functioning city. We must hold our city council members collectively accountable for advancing the need for better housing, safe clean streets, economic opportunity, and a better quality of life for all our residents. We must actually reduce homelessness, combat crime, and improve our neighborhoods, not simply talk about solving these challenges.”
Nickel said that “over the next eight months I will be engaging with all our residents and hosting regular community gatherings before every city council meeting. Residents are welcome to call me anytime to share their thoughts about moving our city forward. I am confident this November we will succeed in finally moving beyond the disappointments of the past and toward a promising bright future for our shared community.”
In 2020, Kimberly Calvin carved out a narrow three-vote victory over then-incumbent Councilwoman Bessine Richard. This year, in a startling miscue, Calvin failed to gather a sufficient number of signatures on her council position nomination papers by the filing deadline, thus missing the opportunity to be on the ballot. Meanwhile, Richard filed successfully to run again, joined by Mario Flores. Calvin gamely ran as a write-in candidate. On election night, Flores jumped out on what appeared to be a convincing lead, capturing 559 of the 1,109 votes cast at the polls, while Richard claimed 387 and Calvin copped 163 write-in endorsement. That 52.62 percent put Flores on an trajectory to win the election outright, contingent, of course, on his maintaining a majority of the vote – at least fifty percent plus one – until all of the votes are counted. Richard, by contrast had 35.51 percent and Calvin 9.73 percent.
In the three days since the election, as of today at 4 p.m., Flores had seen his lead dip slightly, as he now has 647 of the total 1,265 votes cast in the Sixth Ward, or 51.15 percent. Richard stands with 436 votes or 34.47 percent. Calvin has 182 or 14.39 percent.
In the Seventh Ward, incumbent Damon Alexander, a recently retired federal Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Agent who in 2020 vanquished then-incumbent Jim Mulvihill, a college professor in that year’s election, found himself beset by two challengers: college professor Treasure Ortiz and former San Bernardino City Attorney Jim Penman. Just two years ago, Penman and Ortiz vied for mayor in a bid to unseat Valdivia. In 2019, Ortiz ran against Figueroa for council when she lived in the Third Ward.
In November, Penman and Ortiz will battle head-to-head to represent the Seventh Ward, as for the second time in two consecutive election cycles, that jurisdiction’s residents have voted to shed their incumbent.
Of the Seventh Ward’s 2,314 votes counted through 4 p.m. today, 641 or 29.68 percent were in favor of Alexander. Penman outdistanced him with 706 votes, which equates to 32.69 percent of the votes counted thus far. Ortiz bested her rivals with 813 votes or 37.64 percent.
Of note, Ortiz was slightly off the pace in the votes cast at the polls, having brought in 130 at the 15 precincts within the district, while both Alexander and Penman tied with 134. It was among voters participating by means of the post office that Ortiz prevailed most decidedly, with 683 ballots marked in her favor as opposed to 572 for Penman and 507 for Alexander.
“The City Council must focus on cleaning up our city, supporting our police department and our new police chief, and implementing an effective policy to get the unhoused into safe facilities with mental health and anti-addiction counseling, Penman told the Sentinel on Thursday. “Evacuating the homeless from our streets, legally and expeditiously, must become a top priority of our city council. I am very humbled and excited the 7th Ward voters have given me this opportunity to continue our fight to represent them in moving San Bernardino forward.”
Penman said, “I am optimistic that the decision of the majority of voters will be in our favor this November,” adding, “I want to thank Councilman Damon Alexander for his service throughout his term to the 7th Ward and to the City of San Bernardino.” Ortiz said, “I am pleased thus far with the outcome in the the 7th Ward. It is amazing to be here after four years and two races. Hard work and determination can pay off in the end. I only wish that I was moving forward with Councilwoman Calvin and Christian Shaughnessy still in the race.”
Ortiz said she was somewhat disappointed in the “low voter turnout. We need the involvement of the community in order to make the progress we need in the city.”
She said “Being in the lead is potentially an advantage” going into the runoff in November but that she was not going to discontinue her high intensity approach.
“I am going to continue with my investment in commitment and I will just keep pushing ahead in address the city’s priorities,” she said in explaining what her strategy will be.
-Mark Gutglueck

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