Old hands and a new face for Manhattan Beach council
by Ryan McDonald
Manhattan Beach voters revealed mixed feelings about political experience in Tuesday’s election, turning out the two incumbents seeking reelection while electing one new councilmember and two returning councilmembers who last held the office at least four years ago.
Planning commissioner Nancy Hersman will take a seat on the council for the first time. She is joined by Richard Montgomery, who previously served from 2005 to 2013, and Steve Napolitano, who served from 1992 to 2005.
Eight candidates had sought three open seats on Tuesdays ballot. With all precincts reporting, Napolitano led all candidates, chosen by 23.8 percent of voters for 3,026 votes, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder. Hersman came in second with 2,319 votes, at 18 percent, and Montgomery rounded out the victors with 1,906, at 15 percent.
Narrowly trailing the top three were incumbent councilmembers Mark Burton and Tony D’Errico, who tallied 1,777 votes and 1,343, respectively.
The large field made for an unusually tight race with an outcome that was difficult to forecast. Napolitano said that he ran “as I always do — like I’m 30 points behind.” He maintained that he was “not running against anyone,” and attributed his victory to relentless door-knocking and hours spent listening to voter concerns.
“I had no idea what the results were going to be. Tony and Mark ran good, clean campaigns,” Napolitano said. “I just want to thank them for their service. They are good people who did good work.”
The other victors were gracious, but had different interpretations of the results.
Hersman said that she recognized the long odds against her, but realized she had a shot as the race went on. She earned several key endorsements, which began to make it feel like less of an uphill battle.
“I felt like I was running against four incumbents for three seats,” Hersman said, referring to Burton, D’Errico, Montogmery and Napolitano. “But when the endorsements started coming through, it was a real cross section.”
She also said her experience on both the School Board and the Planning Commission, as well as being one of only two female candidates in the eight-person contest, made the difference.
“I never talked about being a woman in the race, but I do think it resonated with a lot of people,” Hersman said.
Montgomery was the most willing of the three winners to link his victory to disappointment with the current council. Although his discussions with residents during the campaign did not reveal resentment against Burton or D’Errico, he said that many voters he spoke with were disappointed with the direction the city was headed, particularly with regard to financial matters.
“I don’t know that many residents even knew who our incumbents were. They were just upset at the money being spent,” Montgomery said. “People get nervous when they see money going out with no benefit coming back in.”
Montgomery often referred to his experience on City Council during the Great Recession while campaigning, arguing that the experience he gained in fiscal management during that time would help him trim future budgets, which he said had become bloated by staff salaries and spending on outside consultants.
Burton and D’Errico have been among the harshest critics of climbing salaries and the city’s expanding number of staff positions, both from the dais and on the campaign trail. But Montgomery said that residents laid the blame at their feet for what occurred on their watch, regardless of the positions they took. He said residents often complained to him about the city’s adoption of a 9-80 work schedule, resenting that City Hall is closed for business on alternate Fridays.
“We kept City Hall open on Fridays. Even in the worst of financial times, we never did this,” Montgomery said of his previous service on the council. “‘Why is City Hall closed on Fridays?’ ‘Mam, that’s a question you’re going to have to ask this council.’”
Along with Burton and D’Errico, Councilmember Wayne Powell will be departing due to term limits. With Hersman and Montgomery joining Mayor David Lesser, a majority of the council members will now be former planning commissioners. The city has several looming developments, including the Skechers office complex and the Gelson’s project, which will return to the Planning Commission on March 22.
Tuesday’s voting ran a bit differently than in years past, following a decision by the current council to consolidate the election with Los Angeles County. (Deciding not to do so would have imposed extra costs and potentially required to make two trips to the ballot box — one to vote in city races, another to vote on Measure H, a countywide quarter-cent sales-tax increase to fight homelessness, which narrowly reached the needed two-thirds of voters it needed Tuesday.) As a result, election results were slow to come in, and the final results remained unknown when candidates left election-night parties. And because of the wait associated with final certification of the results from the Registrar-Recorder, it remains unclear whether the winners will be sworn in on March 21 or will have to wait until April 4.
Surveying her new fellow council members, Hersman was upbeat about the group’s potential. She anticipated they would get along well, but said each of them also had an independent streak.
“I’m excited. I really think we are going to be a super collaborative group,” Hersman said. “There’s a lot of love here, but sometimes we’ll disagree about decisions we have to make.”