Mark McDermott

Hadley, Stern lead Council vote, Measure A wins

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Candidate Hildy Stern, flanked by Councilpersons Nancy Hersman and Amy Howorth, celebrates her tentative victory in Tuesday night’s election. Photo by Mark McDermott

by Mark McDermott

If results hold, the City of Manhattan Beach will have its very first City Council with a female majority. Political newcomers Suzanne Hadley and Hildy Stern led a seven-candidate field on Tuesday night in the election for two council seats.

Hadley’s election victory is all but certain. She was the leading vote-getter, garnering 2,416 votes, or 25.1 percent of the votes tallied, with only provisional and late mail-in ballots yet to be counted. Stern received 1,750 votes, or 18.18 percent, but was followed closely by Joe Franklin, who is only 37 votes behind with 1713 votes, 17.8 percent. The remaining votes, an assortment of provisional and mail-in ballots dropped off at the polls, add up to 851 more votes, according to the Los Angeles Country Registrar’s office. Total votes already counted are a little more than 5,100. The next ballot counting will occur Friday afternoon. Voter turnout was a little below 20 percent, according to early estimates.

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Hadley, who celebrated at her North Manhattan Beach home with her husband, former assemblyman David Hadley, was cautious about declaring victory. “It feels really good,” she said. “But we have to wait and see.”

Hadley credited her “three S’s” message with her campaign’s success: spending (as in reducing city spending) strong schools, and public safety.

“I think fiscal responsibility carried the day,” she said.

On the campaign trail, Hadley did not shy from the fact that she had been a stay-at-home mom for two decades. She had an Ivy League MBA and a successful career she walked away from 23 years ago, instead focusing on raising four children. She said at a February voters’ forum that being a mother informed her sense of fiscal restraint. “Sometimes,” she said, “You just have to say no.”

Hadley said the plainspokenness of her message seemed to reach voters.

“I’m a real person with a real family and a real life,” she said. “I think that resonated. The voters are real people. That sometimes gets lost at City Council.”

Stern’s victory, if it holds up, came as a surprise to even some of her supporters. Mail-in votes were posted by the LA County Clerk not long after polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday night. Franklin held a 132 vote lead for second place, with 1,092 votes. Candidate Mark Burton had 960 votes, Stern 942, and Wayne Powell 936. Hadley was already far ahead with 1,451 votes.

Then, at about 10:30 p.m., all seven Manhattan Beach precincts rolled in all at once, propelling Stern to apparent victory. Several volunteers who’d already left Stern’s campaign party, at supporter Sharon Cohen’s home in East Manhattan, streamed back in to celebrate.

“Three women!” exclaimed Councilperson Nancy Hersman, a supporter of Stern, recognizing the history that would be made if indeed Hadley and Stern join her on the council dais.

Stern credited her volunteers with her success. She had “dozens and dozens” of hyper-competent and very passionate supporters, she said, some who worked nearly full time over the last week of the campaign. On Election Day alone, her volunteers sent 1,700 personal text messages to ensure voter turnout on her behalf.

Stern, a former Department of Justice lawyer with a law degree from Georgetown, likewise left behind her career to raise a family of four after arriving in Manhattan Beach 24 years ago. Stern has been a very active volunteer both for MBUSD schools and for local charitable groups such as the Richstone Foundation. Many of the fellow volunteers she has worked with over the years were part of her campaign. Stern said the tumult of politics at the national level filtered down to the local level insofar as she and her supporters felt a strong urge to become even more involved locally.

“What this is really about is learning what it means to take responsibility for the things we care about, and how we can really join together as a community to do that,” she said. “That’s what community volunteering is — everyone joining together for what we feel passionate about, stepping in and stepping up.”

“I think the last couple years people have really looked at our political environment and recognized that we have things we want to fight for,” she said. “It has changed our democracy. It’s not a political or partisan thing to say we know now what it means to get in there, on a grassroots level, and really fight for what we care about.”

Stern was personally motivated to run for council because two council members she admired, David Lesser and Amy Howorth, were terming out. She believed the city needed someone to fill the void of that cumulative loss of leadership represented on the council. Her campaign was less about bold stands on issues — though she is emphatic about issues of environmental sustainability — than it was fostering a productive civic discourse and increased sense of community.

“I don’t have a loud voice, but I have a very steady voice, and I have a very collaborative voice, and I think that is the most important way we can work together,” she said at a candidate forum in February.

Howorth, who served (in an unpaid capacity) as Stern’s campaign manager, said she supported the candidate because Stern “ran for the right reasons” — a sort of pure sense of civic responsibility —  and would bring her colleague David Lesser’s sense of deliberateness and fairness to council proceedings. Tuesday night, Howorth said that voters seemed to respond to Stern’s understated but direct manner. She thought that there was also appeal for some voters to vote for two women on the ballot.

“I do think there was a woman kind of factor,” Howorth said.

Stern said she was cautiously optimistic her lead would persist. Franklin said he was cautiously optimistic he would pick up the necessary votes to win.

“There are uncounted votes, and the numbers are so close,” he said. “It could change one way or the other, and I’m looking forward to the outcome, as so many other people are.”

One certain outcome in the council race is that two former councilmen who ran will not regain office; Mark Burton and Wayne Powell earned 1,518 and 1,518 votes, respectively. In an echo of the 2017 campaign, in which Powell had just termed out and Burton was defeated, an anonymous mailer came out attacking both on matters of fiscal responsibility.

Councilman Richard Montgomery said that their loss was less about attack politics and more about voting records on matters of fiscal responsibility.

Although disappointed in the low voter turnout, I am excited to see two new faces on the next City Council,” Montgomery said. “Manhattan Beach voters apparently held the two former City Council members accountable for their financial miscues and voting records.”

Candidates Brian Withers and Joseph Ungoco rounded out the field, garnering 491 and 224 votes.

The only other item on the municipal ballot, Measure A, sailed to an easy and more certain victory, winning 76 percent of the vote. The measure will increase the city’s Transit Occupancy Tax, also known as the hotel “bed tax” from its current rate of 10 percent up to 12 percent. Surrounding cities all have TOT rates of at least 12 and some 14 percent, Mayor Steve Napolitano noted at last week’s State of the City address, while also noting that the city negotiated with local hoteliers to delay the onset of the rate increase for a full year, and locked the 12 percent rate in for the following two years, after which council could bring the rate to 14 percent.

“I was very pleased to see that voters saw the value in Measure A, and that we’ll be able to enhance public safety and many other vital services as a result,” Napolitano said after election results came in. “My thanks go out to our hotel operators, who collaborated with us to strike a deal that turned into a win for everyone.”

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