Merced County Times Newspaper
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SERRATTO ON THE RISE

Merced's apparent mayor-elect says he is ready to get to work / Pedrozo holds lead in race for Dist. 2 seat on Board of Supervisors

By JOHN MILLER & JONATHAN WHITAKER

In an Election Night forever to be remembered by razor-thin margins for victory, there was one local candidate in a highly competitive race who was blessed with a clear and decisive win.  

Matthew Serratto is on his way to becoming the next Mayor of Merced after he took an early lead on Tuesday evening, and then celebrated as the numbers in his favor just kept growing. 

Serratto — the current mayor pro tem on the City Council — has so far earned 53 percent of the vote, or 9,818 votes, compared to his closest challenger Michael Belluomini who garnered 21 percent of the vote, or 3,947 votes. Councilman Anthony Martinez came in third place with 13.6 percent, or 2,569 votes, while homeless advocate Monica Villa was close behind with 13.1 percent, or 2,471 votes. 

“I’m excited and ready to get to work,” Serratto told the Times as the results came in. “I have a big list of things I would like to get started on. I’m really excited to get working on homelessness. So many of the projects that we’ve been working on have been building up over the last few years, and are starting to come online, and in particular the new Navigation Center. So it will be really nice to get to work on something that requires so many partnerships across so many governmental and non-governmental agencies. We really want to work on deepening those relationships and working on them to be able to manage that issue better. I think we are finally going to be able to have the tools to do that. So that is No. 1. …

“I think Downtown Merced is another area where we have had a lot of progress and have been attracting big investments, and so the next step is that the city has to invest in downtown as well. We have to do things to change and study other downtowns in other areas, and then the next thing would be to develop a great Downtown Association that takes it to the next level and really manages and maintains it. … 

“Those are just a couple of issues. There are a lot of initiatives too to help clean up the city and deal with a lot of the trash issues as well. … 

Serratto credited his win to ongoing direct communication with Merced voters. 

“Just constant engagement, especially online, over nine months was a very valuable way to connect with voters,” he said. “And it was homelessness that was far and away the No. 1 issue with people in town, and then another big issue was people getting concerned with the amount of trash on our streets. So that was an issue that we kind of picked up.”

Serratto also mentioned other key issues in which he found common ground with voters, and those included improving road conditions, youth activities and local parks.

 

Pedrozo leads Lor

Hours before the County Times press time on Wednesday morning, Merced County’s Registrar of Voters Barbara Levey reported the unofficial election results that are seen in this issue. However, Levey pointed out that thousands of voters dropped off ballots on Tuesday, the final day of voting, and those ballots were still being processed. 

Several local races were too close to call at this time. 

This includes the race for the District 2 seat on the Merced County Board of Supervisors. Challenger Josh Pedrozo was leading with a margin of just 480 votes over incumbent Supervisor Lee Lor

Pedrozo had nearly 52 percent of the vote, with 7,969 votes, compared to Lee Lor at 48 percent and 7,489 votes. 

Pedrozo — a two-term Merced City Council member and local high school teacher — brought a powerhouse campaign to the race with Lor who is finishing up her first-ever term as an elected official.  

“We are very confident and pleased with the numbers we are seeing,” Pedrozo told the Times. “I think as the trend continues, we are going to see an increase on both sides. But at the end of the day, I’m confident our campaign is going to come out on top.”

Lor declined a Times’ request for comment on Tuesday, but she did release some comments on social media.

“We are confident voters will re-elect the first and only county supervisor in the United States to implement participatory budgeting,” she wrote to supporters, “and the only Merced County supervisor in 12 years to create a non-profit business with residents, the only Merced County supervisor to hire paid student interns to address issues that impact young people, a county supervisor who established sustainable practices led by volunteers and a county supervisor who convenes, co-facilitates and develops diverse leaders around challenges like race, equity, public health and other pressing social issues on top of the traditional county supervisor responsibilities.”

She ended by stating: “We got this.”

 

Knox, Ornelas are oh-so close

The race for the District 1 seat on the Merced City Council was too close to call Wednesday morning. Candidate Joel Knox was in the lead by only 38 votes. Knox had 43.8 percent of the vote, or 978 votes, compared to Jesse Ornelas who had 42 percent of the vote, or 940 votes. A third candidate, Louis Smith, trailed behind with 13.7 percent of the vote, with 307 votes. 

District 1 includes a large portion of southeast Merced on both sides of the Highway 99. 

Ornelas, a youth program manager, is showing impressive numbers despite having a grassroots campaign with little fundraising compared to thousands of dollars raised by Knox, a retired teacher and neighborhood activist.   

On Election Night, Ornelas told the Times: “It’s turning out exactly as I expected. I knew it was going to be 50-50 either way. I received an email from the Elections Office that said there still is a lot more ballots left to be counted. And I’m excited. … 

“I appreciate the community and the residents who have supported me. I walked my knee caps off. I think it’s a very worthy sacrifice I made. It’s 2020. It’s a crazy time. When my grandkids are in school, and they hear about 2020 and this era, they are going to know that their grandfather put some work in to try and be a part of the solution, and be a part of a community he cares about very much.”

 

Perez, Brooks are Neck and Neck

It’s the same story, but only closer in the Merced City Council District 3 race. 

There are only 9 votes separating Bertha Perez from Allen Brooks. 

Perez is a UC Merced custodian and union leader. Brooks is a local real estate agent and president of the NAACP. 

Perez was holding on to 50 percent of the vote with 1,280 votes, compared to Brooks’ 49.7 percent, or 1,271 votes. 

District 3 is a central Merced area that includes most of downtown, including the Main Street core. 

 

Boyle Leads Martinez

In the race for the District 5 seat on the Merced City Council, first-time candidate Sarah Boyle was enjoying a somewhat comfortable lead over another first-time candidate, Jeremy Martinez. 

Boyle had 53 percent of the vote, with 1,731 votes, compared to Martinez with 46 percent, or 1,507 votes. 

Both Boyle and Martinez work as professionals in the private business sector. 

“I’m excited to continue seeing how this pans out,” Boyle told the Times. “I wish they would update the numbers a little quicker, but I was expecting a bit of delay. For me, I just didn’t want to overwork myself because it isn’t in my control anymore. So now I’m just mentally preparing myself. …

“Ultimately I’m just thankful for everyone who voted for me and supported me. It was a lot of fun. I had a great time campaigning, and I think it gave me that opportunity to get creative and figure out how to reach people.”

On social media, Martinez reflected: “Since I filed to run for office I’ve been running at 100 mph. This was a sprint and a marathon at the same time. … and it feels like it’s gone by in a blink, but then I look back at what we’ve accomplished over the last few months: the endorsements of our MercedPolice Officers’ Association – MPOAMerced City Firefighters, IAFF Local 1479, North Valley Labor Federation, Merced Sun-Star, Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce and the personal and professional endorsements of some of our community’s brightest and most dedicated business and community leaders. I’m grateful for the process and even more grateful for the support I’ve received in under 3 months.” 

In other election news ..

• Incumbent Congressman Jim Costa (D-Fresno) will retain his seat against Republican Kevin Cookingham in District 16, which includes all of Merced County, as well as Madera County and the city of Fresno. 

Costa was ahead with 60.5 percent of the district-wide vote on Wednesday morning, compared to Cookingham’s 39.5 percent.  

With the win, Costa retains the seat in District 16 that he’s had since 2013. Cookingham was a political newcomer and retired educator.

Said Costa, “The harder you work, the luckier you get, and at the end of the day, I always put my faith and trust in the voters of District 16.”

• Incumbent State Assembly member Adam Gray (D-Merced) held his District 21 seat with 63 percent of the vote, compared to challenger Joel Gutierrez Campos who earned 37 percent of the vote. 

• It looks like first-time candidate Jesse Espinosa will win the Area 2 seat on the Board of Education for the Merced City School District. Espinosa, with a whopping 63 percent of the vote, is beating Tsia Xiong in the race. 

“This campaign has been an invaluable experience, and I intend to make the most of this opportunity to create meaningful change,” Espinosa said in a social media post.  

• The race for the Area 4 seat on the MCSD board is a lot, lot closer. Challeger Birdi OlivarezKidwell is leading incumbent Trustee Emily Langdon by only 4 votes! The totals so for are: 2,145 to 2,141. 

• In Atwater, incumbent City Councilman John Cale, with 1,1,30 votes is leading challenger Michael Noguera with 833 votes. 

• In Livingston, Juan Aguilar with 1,769 votes was leading Gurpal Samra with 1,064 votes in the race for mayor. 

• And in the really close Los Banos mayoral race, Tom Faria was in the lead with 4,474 votes — just 13 votes ahead of challenger Paul Llanez

Stay tuned for more election updates in future editions of the County Times!

Matthew Serratto looks at election results on his smart phone as the realization sets in that he would likely be elected the next mayor of Merced.

 

Heidi and Josh Pedrozo look at polling information at their home on Election Night. At the time, Pedrozo, a candidate for the District 3 seat on the Board of Supervisors, was leading incumbent Supervisor Lee Lor.

 

Mayoral candidate Monica Villa fills out her ballot on Election Day. Villa was in last place after the initial results came in; however, she was close to outperforming her closest competitor, City Councilman Anthony Martinez.

 

During the biggest Election Day in Merced County history, workers inside the Elections Warehouse open and flatten out ballots to ready them for further processing.

 

Merced City Council candidate Sarah Boyle stands with family and friends as the numbers start to roll in late on Election Night.

 

City Council candidate Jesse Ornelas stands with his top campaign staff members — his children: Jesse Ornelas III and Alonna Campos — who stayed up late to view election results.

 

Working from the early morning hours late into the night, young volunteers were on hand outside of the County Administration Building on M Street to help quickly gather ballots as they manned a drive-thru drop off location for local voters.
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