Former SanTana city councilman David Benavides is hoping to emerge victorious in the city’s other special election next month. That’s when voters will decide if his experience on council and current position as executive director of KidWorks is good enough to fill a vacancy on the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) board of trustees.
But with SanTana mayor Miguel Pulido terming out next year, is the school board seat just a passing fancy for Benavides?
When former trustee Ceci Iglesias won election to SanTana city council in 2018, it left her seat on the board vacant. The school board’s four remaining members deadlocked on deciding whether to appoint Carolyn Torres, a junior high teacher in Anaheim, or attorney Bruce Bauer in Iglesias’ place. The indecision led to the special election coinciding with one for city council in Ward 4. Whoever prevails in November will serve out the remainder of Iglesias’ term before deciding on running for reelection in 2020.
“For over 20 years, I have [had] the privilege of serving in various capacities to champion programs, support, and investment in Santa Ana’s youth and their education,” Benavides writes the Weekly, in making his case. “One of the ways I have contributed to our youth and community is in my role as executive director of a successful education non-profit in Santa Ana.”
Benavides has serious backing for his bid thanks to key endorsements from school board president Valerie Amezcua and John Palacio, another trustee. He’s also the preferred candidate of the Democratic Party of Orange County and the Orange County Labor Federation.
According to recent campaign finance disclosure forms, Benavides has more money on hand than Torres, his main opponent in the race. Most of the funds, though, came from a curious source, twice removed. Documents show a $9,000 “miscellaneous increase to cash” in late August to the Benavides for School Board 2019 committee from the Benavides for Mayor 2020 committee. Before that, Benavides transferred leftover contributions from his 2014 city council campaign over to the mayoral committee in March.
It’s an eyebrow-raising money shuffle that detractors are pointing to in criticizing Benavides for not having a true commitment to students in the district.
“This kind of seat jumping is common for career politicians,” Torres writes the Weekly. “I do not think it is right that David is using SAUSD students as a stepping stone for mayor or any other office he may have plans for in the future.”
Aside from the leftover funding, only Amezcua and an old campaign committee supporting Lou Correa for Attorney General have actively donated to his school board campaign through late September. Congressman Correa is also endorsing his candidacy.
By contrast, Torres counts numerous contributions from teachers, community members and trustees from Anaheim school boards. The Network for Public Education is also endorsing her grassroots candidacy. “Donations have come from small-scale meet and greet fundraisers and calling people who know me and believe in my campaign message that we need a teacher’s perspective on the school board,” she says. “I have a solid reputation in the community and folks have been willing to donate and volunteer to walk precincts.”
Benavides filed paperwork to run for SanTana mayor and formed the committee back in March, a month after the school board deadlocked and a special election was ordered. He says the steps to establish the committee began even before that, but now his attention is on the school board seat, even offering a promise to voters of sorts.
“Upon much thought and consideration, I decided to turn my focus toward a potential opportunity to serve as a member of the governing board of the Santa Ana Unified School District beginning with the special election this November 5th,” says Benavides. “If the Santa Ana community elects me to serve on the SAUSD Board this November, I will immediately establish a re-election committee for Santa Ana School Board 2020.”
The candidate has shown a certain predilection for keeping his political options open through campaign committees. If he wins the school board seat, he can’t run for both offices in 2020. He’ll have to choose one. But if Benavides loses, he can always stay in the early race against incumbent councilman Jose Solorio to become the first mayor of SanTana not named Miguel Pulido in decades.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!