Local politics, it seems, has gone national, and that may not be a good thing. What seemed like a particularly civic issue – selecting someone to fill the vacancy on the Huntington Beach City Council created by the resignation of Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz – is morphing (some would say degenerating) into a battle that seems to reflect the deep divide in this nation.
Ortiz, as you may know, was a controversial figure from the start. He openly doubted whether the coronavirus pandemic was real, and refused to wear a mask in restaurants or even in the council chamber. Finally frustrated with the criticism heaped on him and claiming he feared for the safety of his family, he resigned.
We’re betting that, now, the folks who mocked Ortiz might be wishing they’d gone easier on him, because the process of replacing him is opening up old wounds and bringing out another side of Huntington Beach that’s not looking good on the TV news or in the local press (to the extent that local press survives).
One hundred ninety people applied for the job, and over 100 followed up with interviews. Monday’s special council meeting was supposed to be a relatively brief one, with city leaders sorting out their preferences and coming to agreement.
The most controversial candidate was Gracey Van Der Mark, who finished fourth in the 2020 city council race. Three seats were at stake. Her supporters – which include Ortiz – argue that her “runner-up” status qualified her for the job. She’s been criticized for her comments on race and was removed from two local school district committees on that basis.
Now, even though she appeared to have only one supporter on the council – Erik Peterson – there’s a good chance that she will make the final consideration after all.
A crowd of her backers showed up Monday night, and their support for her ranged from polite to, well, threatening. One speaker vowed that if anyone other than Van Der Mark was chosen, he would go “full scorched Earth” against the city council, repeating that he had “the data to prove it.”
Another insisted that the selection should be “100 percent MAGA,” which presumably means “Make America Great Again,” a slogan made famous by a recent president. When a councilmember made mention of the 2020 election as being “free and fair” it drew a chorus of angry boos from the gallery.
Unable to agree on whom to select, the council adjourned to a meeting “within seven days.” If the council still can’t come up a decision at THAT meeting – and oh, what a circus that might be! – it will be stuck with a special election costing taxpayers $1 million.
In light of all this, as we said earlier, the smartest thing critics might have done to Mr. Ortiz would have been to simply leave him alone.
“Usually Reliable Sources” is posted on Wednesdays, alternating with Jim Tortolano’s “Retorts” column.