Diversity wins in vote for new Merced leaders
If the latest election results hold true, a new Merced City Council in December will better reflect the town’s ethnically diverse population and socioeconomic perspectives. Women will also make gains in terms of increased representation.
It’s looking like there will be three Latino members, three White members, and one African American member on the City Council when the election is certified and everybody is sworn in. These would include two women, an increase of one from before.
The new council would include a grandmother who works as a custodian, a single father who works as a youth program director, a married man who is retired after a career in mental health, a single woman who works as a business professional, a single man who serves as a Sheriff’s deputy, another single man who serves as a Sheriff’s deputy, and a county prosecutor who is now the mayor.
There will be three newly elected council members, and all were involved in close races, and a couple that were extremely close on Election Night.
“I’m kinda of anxious,” candidate Bertha Perez told the Times on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s so close. It’s not a comfortable feeling. … In my heart, I feel like I’m going to win, and I have felt that way from the beginning.”
As of an election update Thursday night, the UC Merced custodian was leading her District 3 competitor Allen Brooks by 104 votes. The total votes counted so far in the race were 3,648 — and that voter turnout number astounded Perez who estimated there were 4,000 registered voters in the district.
The Times asked Perez what a win would mean in her situation, and she responded: “It would mean a voice for the working class at the table for once in Merced. … It would mean a lot of work. It would mean I have to roll up my sleeves and get to work. It would mean I would have no free time.”
Perez said she is prepared to take on a new leadership role, but “I think it’s going to be a challenge getting people to understand that the working class matters. It’s going to be a challenge for those people who are used to catering to the wealthy people. … I think it will be a shock for them to see somebody that’s going to be bold and daring, and speak up for the underserved. It’s going to be something that’s uncommon at the City Council meetings. They are going to have to get used to it.”
Perez added, “I’m not going to be there to satisfy the other city leaders and officials. I’m going to be there for the people of Merced. It’s not about me, It’s about them.”
In the District 1 race, the candidate in the lead has echoed similar themes of support and engagement for the underserved residents of Merced. Jesse Ornelas, a youth program leader and community activist, was leading Joel Knox by 80 votes.
And in the District 5 race, Sarah Boyle was leading Jeremy Martinez by 257 votes.
“Everyone is calling me and congratulating me, and I say, ‘Thank you,’ but I’m reminding people that this thing is still unofficial,” Boyle told the Times. “They are still counting every day.”
That said, Boyle said she is excited by the idea of joining “a fairly young and very dynamic group” on the council.
Boyle added that it will be great to work with Matthew Serratto, the former District 5 representative and the clear winner in this year’s mayoral race.
“At the beginning of my campaign, I met with him to get a better understanding of some of the things that were going on in District 5,” she said. “There were ideas that we bounced around. … I see him as a mentor now. It’s a good position for me to be in. I have him easily accessible.”
Speaking of the mayoral race, candidate Monica Villa was in last place, but she feels pretty good. At least 3,531 people (and counting) voted for the unique candidate who is homeless and currently getting benefits from the state’s Project Room-key program.
“I was very happy to see so many people out voting,” Villa told the Times. “I will be excited to see the percentage of votes this year compared to the last three elections. Congratulations to all the young adults who are stepping up to make a difference for the future. Parents follow your children’s lead and get more involved in your community. I’m looking forward to good things to happen in the city of Merced.”
As for the current Merced Mayor Mike Murphy, he told the Times: “Matt Serratto ran a terrific campaign and had a strong win on Election Night. I think he is going to do a great job for the City of Merced. He has put in the time and effort to be up to speed on the issues. He has been an engaged council member. … I plan to finish strong in the few weeks I have left and focus on making sure Matt has a smooth transition.”
As for the other new council members, the mayor added, “Everybody has a learning curve when they first start. … These new council members have an opportunity to get up to speed and make a difference in our community. … A lot of that depends on them putting in the time and effort to do so. … My hope is that they will all do that. They have all showed a willingness to run and to serve, and now it’s time for them to lead.”
In other close local races …
First-time candidate Birdi Olivarez-Kidwell appears to be pulling away from incumbent Emily Langdon in the race for the Area 4 seat on the Board of Education for the Merced City School District. Olivarez-Kidwell was ahead by 232 votes as of Thursday night.
On Election Night, Olivarez-Kidwell was down by only 4 votes.
“It’s looking pretty good now, but we will have to wait and see.” she told the Times. “We both have the best interest of kids at heart. The voters had a choice between two very qualified candidates. … I thought it would be close, but I didn’t think it would be this close.”
Olivarez-Kidwell said she hopes to make a difference as schools reopen, allowing for more students and teachers to safely return to classroom instruction.
Board of Supervisors
And in the District 2 race for a seat on the Merced County Board of Supervisors, it appears that challenger Josh Pedrozo is going to oust incumbent Supervisor Lee Lor who is finishing up her first-ever term in office. Pedrozo was leading Lor on Thursday by 1,282 votes.
“I’m feeling very confident and really excited about the outcome so far,” Pedrozo told the Times. “That said, they still have 12,000 votes left countywide to count.”
If elected, Pedrozo plans to meet with the various department heads within the county’s administration, and also do something important he learned after he was first elected to the Merced City Council back in 2009.
“I’m going to be doing a lot of listening,” he said. “That’s important in preparation to get things accomplished. … I’m excited to get to work with the other supervisors on transportation and infrastructure projects, economic development, public safety, homelessness — all of these things that need attention. The Board of Supervisors will have another person now to really help put a focus on those issues, I think that’s important to do.”
Amazing Voter Turnout
According to the Registrar of Voters, the canvass of the Presidential General Election remains in progress. Preliminary projections point to a whopping 76 percent total voter turnout in the county.
The unofficial election results may be viewed at the Merced Elections webpage or from the Merced County main webpage. The website totals currently reflect ballots voted at the Voting Assistance Centers as well as Vote by Mail (VBM) ballots.
Results were updated again late Thursday afternoon. The next update is expected on Nov. 20.
The canvass will continue until complete. Upon completion of the Official Canvass, including all required activities, the election results will be certified.