NORWALK - Longtime incumbents Mike Mendez and Cheri Kelley narrowly reclaimed their seats on the Norwalk City Council Tuesday night, holding off three challengers in a crowded campaign that yielded low voter turnout at the polls.According to unofficial results counted on election night, Mendez and Kelley held on to their council seats with 1,689 and 1,680 votes respectively, defeating challengers Enrique Aranda and Darryl Adams who came within striking distance. Aranda, marketing director for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, finished third with 1,615 votes, just 65 votes shy of victory. Despite the outcome, Aranda believes his campaign effectively gathered those in the community who are eager to work towards lasting change. "We ran a strong, clean campaign with broad support across ages - it was a community-building experience," said Aranda. "More than 1500 families said City Hall needs to change...we're seeing the emergence of a community coalition." Highlighted by state budget cuts, city redevelopment, and a recent crime wave, the city council election often set the seasoned experience of Mendez and Kelley - who share a combined 41 years on the council - against change advocates Aranda, Adams, and community volunteer Candy Martinez, who collected 764 votes. Bryan Mesinas-Perez, who appeared on the ballot but previously dropped out of the race, received 274 votes. Adams, who came in fourth with 1,354 votes, hopes Mendez and Kelley will interpret their win as a call for more community engagement and economic development. "They didn't receive a mandate, they just received more votes," Adams quipped. "It's clear that the community is not impassioned, but very skeptical. What I sense is that voters didn't feel anything would be different. "If they don't bring change to Front Street and better utilize our tax dollars then they've misread everything," said Adams, a teacher and school board member of the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District. Elected to the council in 1988, Mendez, who was hesitant to run for reelection, is now expected to serve his sixth term. Kelley, who was elected in 1997, will serve a fourth term. "I'm pleased that I'm sitting on the top. I feel very blessed that people continue to support me...as I've said before, I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve," said Mendez, who was also disappointed with the low turnout. "I'd like to see everybody vote, but there weren't a lot of things on the ballot. Some say if you don't see a lot of votes then people are pleased, but I don't know, it's hard to say." According to the city clerk's office, voter turnout dropped from the 2011 election where 6,057 ballots were collected. Just 4,315 ballots were cast on Tuesday based on the unofficial results. While voter participation decreased, Norwalk's voter registration is steadily increasing and now stands at 47,542 compared to 44,470 registered voters two years ago. The final voting results will be certified at the March 19 council meeting, City Clerk Theresa Devoy said on Wednesday. The election winners will be sworn in during that council meeting.
********** Published: March 7, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 47