With just one week left in the race to fill the Long Beach City Council’s First District seat, the eight candidates have significant differences in funding.
The leader in fundraising so far is Long Beach Transit Director Mary Zendejas, with more than $93,000 in total contributions. The person with the least amount of money in the bank is Shirley Huling, an educator and farmer who has not reported any contributions as of Monday, Oct. 28, according to city records.
Huling did not respond to a request for comment.
Zendejas — largely seen as the front-runner in the race, thanks to endorsements from the First District seat’s most recent occupants, State Sen. Lena Gonzalez and Mayor Robert Garcia — has received $2,500 donations from each of several unions, including the Long Beach Firefighters Association, the UA Journeymen & Apprentices Local No. 250 and the Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 1309.
Committees for other local politicians — such as Assemblymen Patrick O’Donnell and Anthony Rendon, and Second District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce — have contributed to Zendejas’ campaign as well. She has also received contributions from folks associated with real estate development, including Sean Rawson, with Waterford Property Corp.; George Medak, with Affiliated Development Group, Inc.; and Laura Sanfilippo, with Hughes Investments.
“We are incredibly grateful for the broad and diverse coalition of support our campaign has generated since we launched in June,” Zendejas said in a statement.
A $500 donation from the energy company AES became a point of controversy earlier in her campaign, but she has since returned that contribution.
“While the vast majority of our donors are individuals, residents and organizations in Long Beach, we did receive a donation from AES, which was not initially flagged,” Zendejas said.
“I have been clear throughout my campaign that my priority is to make Long Beach more sustainable, more affordable and more accessible,” Zendejas said about why the campaign returned the contribution. “The AES donation was not consistent with those values.”
Church pastor Misi Tagaloa has brought in the second-most contributions, having raised more than $58,000.
Tagaloa’s campaign is almost entirely self-financed, however, with $52,000 of those donations coming from Tagaloa himself. The remaining donations largely came from individuals, although the private Christian school Oakwood Academy contributed $1,000 and the homeless shelter program Pathways Transitional Housing donated $500.
Tagaloa said he knew going into the race that contributions and endorsements would “favor City Hall insiders,” so he used his savings and retirement funds to pay for the bulk of his campaign.
“I decided to accept funds only from the community,” Tagaloa said, “put my money where my mouth is and to have skin in the game.”
Ray Morquecho, a small business owner, has raised nearly $36,000. His largest donor is the political action committee for the California Apartment Association, which lobbies on behalf of property owners and developers. Folks involved in the real estate industry, including four people who work for the Long Beach property management company Pabst, Kinney & Associates, Inc., comprise many of Morquecho’s donors.
Morquecho said he believed the industry makes up such a sizable portion of his contributions because he has made it clear that, unlike other candidates, he’s willing to listen to their input when it comes to addressing the city’s housing crisis.
“I think I’m the only candidate that’s actually trying to speak out against people demonizing one side or the other,” he said. “When you start making someone into the bad guy, and you need them as part of the solution, that’s not really the best way to go about it.”
As for whether the contributions could impact his decision-making if he is elected, Morquecho said voters have nothing to worry about.
“They’re not going to control me,” he said. “It’s just, I already have a willingness to listen to their side, as well.”
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Mariela Salgado, another small business owner, follows Morquecho, with nearly $26,000 raised, almost all of which has come from individual donors.
Salgado said that although more than half of the contributors listed addresses outside of Long Beach, they all have some connection to the city — whether it’s residing or owning a business here.
“Every $10, $20 that was given to me by the community was absolutely appreciated,” she said. “We went a long way, as far as we could, with every dollar.”
Joe Ganem, a board member for the Downtown Residential Council, has raised nearly $8,000. Like Salgado, nearly all of his donations came from individuals, rather than businesses or PACs.
“We’ve relied mostly on family, friends and small businesses to help finance this race for the First District,” Ganem said.
“Frankly, I’d rather have the sources of support we received as they represent individuals or small business who believe in my experience, knowledge, integrity,” he added, “and are only expecting that I do the best job possible for the people of the First District.”
Next on the list is Elliot Gonzales, an environmental activist who has amassed nearly $4,000. All of Gonzales’ donations came from individuals.
Gonzales said he has intentionally chosen to only accept grassroots contributions.
“Politics is about the people, and the only donors I have are people in the community who support me,” he said. “I didn’t enter politics to raise money from rich people. I entered politics to raise the political consciousness.”
Travel coordinator Shelbyrae Black trails Gonzales in fundraising. Her most recent campaign finance statement reported having received just over $1,500, all of which came from Black and her family.
“As a self-funded campaign, I have designed and printed all of my own campaign materials while being mindful to use recycled materials when possible,” Black said in a statement. “My husband, my neighbors and the residents of District 1 have been my campaign consultants.”
Black said she believed the significant sums other candidates, like Zendejas, have received can create a “chilling effect” on community members becoming involved in local government.
“I think the voters should base their vote on the candidate that they believe has their best interest at heart and the determination to achieve it,” Black said, “not the candidate that drowns them in mailers that cost more than a City Council member makes in a year.”
The special election for the Long Beach City Council’s First District seat, which represents the southwestern portion of the city — stretching from the western border to Orange Avenue, and from 21st Street south to Ocean Boulevard — is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 5.