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Ortiz, Pemberton elected to Downey City Council; Meraz, Legaspi to run again next year

Voting center at Furman Park in Northwest Downey.

Joe Brizzolara

Nov. 7 saw dual special elections come to a close in Downey City Council Districts 1 and 3, with restaurant owner Horacio Ortiz Jr. and real estate agent Dorothy Pemberton taking the night.

Ortiz had 1,063 votes, or 52.42%, according to the certified results released Friday morning by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. Runner-up Elvira Meraz had 797 votes, 39.3%, and Ramon Casas Jr. came in third with 168 votes, 8.28%.

Pemberton maintained a wider lead, securing 1,926 votes, 53.54%, beating runner-up Gil Contreras Legaspi who had 1,340 votes, 37.25%. Ernesto Valle came in third with 331 votes, 9.2%.

Turnout was low in these races. 2,028 voters cast ballots in District 1, or 14.39% of the 14,096 registered voters. 3,597 voters cast ballots in District 3, or 20.67% of the 17,398 registered voters. 

The city clerk is slated to present the results at the Dec. 12 city council meeting, at which point Ortiz and Pemberton will be sworn in. 

The race in District 1, covering Southeast Downey, was to fill former Mayor Blanca Pacheco’s seat after she was elected to the state Assembly last November. The race in District 3, covering Northwest Downey, was to replace former Mayor Pro Tem Catherine Alvarez who was recalled in January. 

Both terms are set to expire next year meaning both seats are up for grabs again in next year’s regular election, with some candidates who came up short on Nov. 7 already saying they’re gearing up for 2024. 

Here’s a look at the two races: 

District 1

Ortiz says it feels “amazing” to have been elected.

“It’s a very fulfilling moment to know I have the confidence of my residents,” Ortiz said in a phone interview on Thursday. “I thank them for (trusting)… me to deliver to our community.”

Ortiz ran on a public safety and economic development-focused platform. He supports streamlining for construction and business permitting, hiring more police officers, and opening a police substation in District 1.

“When people see more police presence, it will deter crime,” Ortiz said. 

Downey Latino New’s candidate survey showed that Ortiz and Meraz held similar positions on multiple issues. Both support increasing the police budget, and both oppose developing housing for unhoused individuals in Downey and caps on annual rent increases for apartments. 

Meraz, a real estate agent, provided a statement via text on Friday thanking God, her family, and supporters and also announcing her intention to run next year.

“I made a decision not to partake in any negative tactics against my opponents and I remained true to that decision,” Meraz’s statement read. “For that reason I can hold my head up high, even if the outcome was not in my favor.” 

“I remain committed to advocating for my community and ensuring our elected officials are held accountable. I look forward to seeing everyone again in 2024,” Meraz said.  

Ortiz secured the backing of multiple establishment Democrats including Congressman Robert Garcia (D-Downey), County Supervisor Janice Hahn, state Assemblymember Blanca Pacheco (D-Downey), and state Senator Bob Archuleta (D-Downey). 

Locally, Ortiz received the endorsement of Mayor Pro Tem Mario Trujillo who appointed Ortiz to the planning commission following Ortiz’s assistance with his 2020 campaign. 

“He’s intelligent, he’s qualified, and he’s young. I see him as the next generation,” Trujillo said about the 32-year-old Ortiz in a phone interview. “I think he’ll be instrumental in moving Downey forward.”

Ortiz was the top fundraiser for this race, raising over $55,000 between Jan. 1 and Oct. 21, outpacing Meraz by $32,000 in the same period.

Ortiz co-owns El Pescador Bar and Grill, Montebello with his father, and his extended family cumulatively owns 15 restaurants in the region. Ortiz received significant funds from these restaurants, with $17,550 connected to El Pescador restaurants, restaurant employees, or the Ortiz family. These contributions accounted for at least 32% of Ortiz’s cash contributions, according to an analysis of his campaign’s financial disclosure forms.  

Trujillo and his husband Henry Trujillo donated $2,000 to Ortiz’s campaign on May 2. 

Ortiz paid around $12,000 to HKF Solutions for various services including voter registration, information technology costs, and consulting (accounting for the lion’s share at $10,000). HKF Solutions is the political consulting firm of Hans Fritz, Ortiz’s campaign manager.

Fritz is also executive director of the Downtown Downey Improvement Association, the administrator of the Downtown Community Benefit District which uses property taxes from Downtown properties to promote economic development, fund special events, and provide security, maintenance, and beautification, along with other expenditures within Downtown. 

Meraz raised $23,000 between Jan. 1 and Oct. 21 and received the endorsements of former mayors Kirk Cartozian, Keith McCarthy, and Rick Rodriguez, as well as Mayor Claudia Frometa and interim Councilmember Timothy Horn. Former Mayor Mario Guerra endorsed Ortiz. 

Cartozian, through a variety of companies with which he is affiliated as well as his brother Craig Cartozian, donated $9,500 to Meraz, accounting for 41% of her cash contributions. 

Cartozian cited Meraz’s support for law enforcement and ties to the district as the impetus for his support. 

“District 1 has always been the forgotten area of the city… it’s been neglected by those who are critical in performing economic development… (Meraz) articulated that and I think she captured what it was to live in District 1,” Cartozian said in a phone interview on Nov. 9. 

“She articulated more of a conservative mindset, moderate to conservative, which I appreciated… very pro-law enforcement,” Cartozian added.

Casas, a high school English teacher and the race’s self-styled “conservative” candidate did not raise any money and secured no major endorsements.

District 3

Pemberton declared victory on Facebook on Nov. 14. 

“I want to thank nearly 2,000 residents that voted for me and overwhelmed (me) by your support,” Pemberton said. “You have said that my decades of community service DO count and experience DOES matter.”

Pemberton also ran a public safety-focused campaign, supporting an increase to the police budget. 

“As a 10-year member of Gangs Out of Downey and graduating from the Downey Police Citizen’s Academy, I will support our local police with what they need to keep our community safe,” Pemberton said in a survey response.

Pemberton also supports opening a dog park and a community garden in District 3. 

Downey Latino New’s candidate survey showed that Pemberton and Legaspi also held similar positions on multiple issues. Both support increasing the police budget and oppose caps on annual rent increases for apartments. Pemberton opposes developing housing for unhoused individuals in Downey, while Legaspi responded “undecided.”

Legaspi is undaunted, saying he will “ABSOLUTELY” run next year the day after polls closed. 

“Immediately, we will make a few minor adjustments to our campaign strategy and we will finish the job we started this year,” Legaspi posted to Facebook on Nov. 8. “WE WILL WIN #2024, (4Yr Term).”  

Pemberton raised $44,000 between Jan. 1 and Oct. 21 and secured support from Downey’s old political guard including Guerra ($1,000 contribution on May 2), Rodriguez ($500 on June 27), Cartozian ($1,000 contribution on May 3), and former Mayor Alex Saab ($1,000 contribution on May 2).

Guerra viewed the election as restorative following the Alvarez recall and the attrition of multiple upper management positions at City Hall. 

“After three years of crisis in leadership in our city, tonight we have elected two new council-members. Both have been servants to our community and now their passion and character will help restore the Downey we’ve always known,” Guerra said in a statement. “Congratulations to Dorothy Pemberton and Horacio Ortiz… I’m proud to call you both friends and for endorsing your campaigns.” 

Pemberton was also endorsed by Frometa ($350 contribution on Aug. 25), Horn, and Councilmember Hector Sosa. Frometa appointed Pemberton to the Public Works Committee to represent District 4 in January.

Pemberton co-chaired two committees–the ladder of which was successful–to recall Alvarez and pulled from that support base for her run. 

A third of Pemberton’s contributors also donated to at least one of the recall campaigns. These donations totaled roughly $19,000, 43% of Pemberton’s cash contributions raised between Jan. 1 and Oct. 21, according to an analysis of her campaign’s financial disclosure forms.   

Pemberton paid HKF Solutions roughly $12,000, largely towards the payment of Fritz who also managed her campaign. 

Legaspi was the top fundraiser in this race, amassing $64,000 between Jan. 1 and Oct. 21, outpacing Pemberton by $20,000 in the same period.

Legaspi also secured the backing of multiple establishment Democrats including Pacheco, Hahn, and Archuleta. Pacheco’s 2024 Assembly campaign donated $1,000 to Legaspi on Oct. 12.

He was also endorsed by Cartozian (who endorsed both Pemberton and Legaspi in this race) and former Mayor Fernando Vazquez.

“Gil Contreras Legaspi had the desire and ‘ganas’ to be able to get our city moving forward,” Vasquez said shortly after polls closed at an election night party supporting Legaspi.

“Gil was the person our city needed at this time,” Vasquez said. “His heart and his commitment in addressing public safety and homelessness, I think he had a good knowledge and grasp of the issues.”

Legaspi, a commercial real estate broker, secured significant funding from the real estate and construction sectors. Combined cash contributions from those and adjacent sectors–including rental property and escrow services–totaled at least $18,000, or 28% of his cash contributions.  

Legaspi paid Valencia Marketing, a marketing company based in Whittier, a total of $32,000 for various services including campaign materials, campaign literature, and information technology costs. 

Grassroots candidate Ernesto Valle, who did not receive the endorsement of any current or former officeholders, acknowledged that his campaign underperformed but said he’s “strongly considering” a run next year.

“I resonated with a lot of people, (I received) a lot of positive feedback from people that said ‘It’s just not your time… We would have supported you… if we’d known you were running sooner,’” Valle said in a phone interview on Nov. 8.

“We didn’t know a lot of things and now we’re better suited for next time,” Valle said about a run next year. 

Valle ran on bringing more trade schools to Downey and increased lighting at Furman Park, which was agendized by Trujillo at the Nov. 14 city council meeting.

Valle raised under $7,000 between Jan. 1 and Oct. 21. Valle lent his campaign $11,000 through his insurance company and an additional $1,500 personally.