ELECTION 2022 – Election Day results fortified by further vote counts
by Mark McDermott
The race for school board and City Council in Manhattan Beach is nearly completed. In the week after Election Day, the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s office tallied a few thousand late-arriving mail-in ballots, and the initial results both held and increased in both the Manhattan Beach City Council and school board race.
David Lesser and Amy Howorth will win election to City Council, while Jen Fenton, Tina Shivpuri, and Wysh Weinstein will be elected to the Manhattan Beach Unified School District Board of Education.
Through Tuesday, MBUSD school board trustee Jen Fenton led all candidates citywide with 7,497 votes, almost 3,000 more votes than the “Trifecta” slate of candidates who ran in an attempt to oust Fenton and seize a board majority. Fenton was the race’s only incumbent, but along with Shivpuri and Weinstein formed an unofficial slate of a sort, not formally running together but nonetheless unified against the Trifecta and its critique of MBUSD.
Further tallies will be reported daily through November 19. But no outcome in Manhattan Beach remains in doubt.
Fenton, in cautiously acknowledging her victory, said the victory showed the community’s belief in the job local schools are doing.
“Each update affirms my gratitude for the residents who spoke with their vote during this election cycle,” she said. “MBUSD is an excellent school district, comprised of some of the finest educators and support staff in the education field. We have engaged families and truly the most remarkable students. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and I’m honored to represent the community.”
Fenton also expressed hope that the overwhelming margin of victory might signal an end to the divisiveness that has dogged MBUSD since early in the pandemic.
“There’s no better way to ensure that our students will continue to receive a top-notch education, one that prepares them to be the leaders of the future, than by coming together as a community and moving forward with a common goal,” she said.
Howorth remained the top vote-getter in the council race. In a field of seven candidates, she earned nearly a quarter of all votes, or 23.96 percent. Her vote total through Tuesday was 6,136, followed by Lesser with 5,999 votes. Hadley, the incumbent, had trailed by 653 votes on Election Day but expressed hope that she could still catch up with mail-in ballots. That hope now appears extinguished. Through Tuesday, Hadley trailed Lesser by 1,407 votes.
Howorth and Lesser both read the initial elections results as an expression from voters in favor of less divisiveness. Hadley, whose often brash outspokenness against issues ranging from LA County pandemic-related public safety mandates to a Trifecta-aligned call for an overhaul of MBUSD, appears to have provoked a coalition of opposition. Howorth and Lesser, who each served two terms previously, were supported by Mayor Steve Napolitano and Mayor pro tem Richard Montgomery, who likewise supported the three non-Trifecta candidates.
Hadley, Howorth argued, never truly represented a majority of Manhattan Beach residents.
“She was elected in a March election,” Howorth said. “This is a November election, and I always believed that there was a majority of residents who didn’t feel that they were being actually and accurately represented by Suzanne on council. I think that is what this election was about — she didn’t represent a majority of Manhattan Beach.”
Hadley won in March 2019 with 3,111 votes, a little more than half of Howorth’s total thus far in 2022, in an election that also featured seven candidates vying for two seats.
Hadley did not respond to a request for comment. But resident Mike Michalski, an observer of local politics who publishes a weekly newsletter, suggested Hadley’s loss had less to do with a lack of support and more to do with a splintering of votes among conservative candidates. He compared it to the 2019 election, in which he argued progressive support unified behind Hildy Stern while conservative voters split their support.
“…The question was whether the local conservatives and moderates had learned their lesson from the 2019 race and would avoid the certain disaster of a split vote in a highly divided electorate,” he wrote. “After all, as the old saying goes, ‘There’s not much to learn from the second kick of the mule.’ Unfortunately, 2019’s lesson went unheeded… This year, the local woke progressives ran two and only two candidates, Amy Howorth and David Lesser. Meanwhile, for those same two seats, the conservatives and moderates ran four viable candidates — Suzanne, Frank Chiella, Rita Crabtree-Kampe and the ever-present Mark Burton.”
Those four candidates, Michalski said, had in total over 500 votes more than the two victorious candidates, Howorth and Lesser. “With a few votes still to count as we went to publish, Amy and David had an effectively insurmountable lead…The 2nd kick of the mule,” he wrote.
Montgomery, who has been a fixture in local politics for two decades, read the tentative election results as a signal from voters for elected officials to move away from ideological labeling and fighting and back to actual local issues.
“This council and school board election results clearly indicate that residents want us to stay focused on events in our backyard. And to do it with civility. Not to agree but listen,” Montgomery said. “Not keep providing long winded speeches from the council dais shouting at Sacramento or [LA County Attorney George] Gascson or what books to ban. Public safety is handled here. So is homelessness. So are our schools. Not in Sacramento or DC.”
“With the election of two former council members, one incumbent and two experienced school board members-elect, the City and MBUSD are well positioned to move past theater and back to getting things done,” Montgomery said.
Hadley raised a record $81,000 for her council race, a total that will likely increase in final financial disclosure filings. But after strongly arguing for a hardline imposition of a new contract on the Manhattan Beach Firefighters Association as part of a unanimous council vote in September, she seemed to acknowledge her potential electoral vulnerability. Other forces almost surely cost Hadley her seat at the dais, but she described the new MBFA contract as the most important legacy she would leave behind.
“I said this in closed session to my colleagues: I would rather lose this reelection and get this contract imposed,” Hadley said in an October campaign feature story. “I didn’t know how my colleagues were going to vote. But I said I want to remove prescribed staffing even if it costs me reelection because that’s how strongly I feel that we’re setting up the fire department for success for the next 25 years. And that will be my legacy.”