Orange will hold a special election to fill a vacant city council seat, in what candidate Betty Valencia, the third runner-up in votes in the November council election, described as an “awesome” turn of events. The decision was announced at a Jan. 22 special city council meeting.
Valencia describes her road to running in the upcoming special election as the “longest campaign.”
“We kept our red boots on the ground and we kept pushing,” Valencia told The Panther. “We want a just and fair process … so the special election is the best case-scenario.”
Valencia’s campaign hasn’t just been long. Despite support – her supporters often don red, Valencia’s signature color and carry signs in her favor at city council meetings – her candidacy has also drawn some ire.
Tensions flared at a Dec. 11 council meeting during a discussion about whether to appoint a new member to the council or hold a special election when a man who opposed Valencia’s campaign called her the “worst person” to have on the council a few minutes before wielding a knife.
“She is not the eye, she is not the ear, she is not the mouth and she is not the symbol that she claims to be,” said Peter Morales in his public comment to the council minutes before he pulled out the weapon.
As Morales walked out to shouts of “shame” and accusations of being racist, a man yelled, “He has a knife,” as Morales brandished the weapon near the back of the council chambers. He was handcuffed by Orange police officers and escorted to a police car after the meeting ended.
In an interview with The Panther after the incident, Valencia described her campaign since the incident in December as “jarring.”
“We need to have these conversations as to why somebody feels comfortable pulling a knife in city council,” she said. “It makes our work even more important and it actually highlights and underscores why that seat needs to be filled with someone who brings in a different perspective.”
Valencia, who says she ran because she wanted to be inclusive and open, knew that the candor of her campaign was a “big risk.”
“I knew that risk could have some drawbacks,” she said.“I was surprised at that extent.”
Valencia, who could be the council’s first openly LGBTQIA+ and Latina member, spoke at public comment on Dec. 11, drawing applause and a standing ovation from the crowd of dozens, some of whom wore red in support of Valencia. The ovation caused council members to rise and leave for an unexpected five-minute recess.
“Get them back out here,” one woman shouted as she recorded on her phone.
The decision to hold a special election stems from a rare open seat on the council, as former Councilman Mark Murphy left one empty when he became mayor. At the Dec. 11 meeting, some held signs that said “10,775 votes can’t be ignored” with a drawing of Valencia’s signature red sneakers.
Support for the decision to hold a special election has been overwhelming. “Voters want to vote for the selection of their councilpeople and this gives them the opportunity to choose who represents them,” Murphy wrote in an email to The Panther.
“The entire city’s registered voters now have a vote in who is selected.” The special election could cost up to $427,000, Murphy said. It would be held in November 2019.