Early ballot counts were close Tuesday evening in the state’s 32nd Senate District runoff election to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Artesia Democrat Tony Mendoza, who stepped down amid sexual harassment allegations.
Republican business owner Rita Topalian and Democrat Vanessa Delgado, the mayor of Montebello, were in a tight race as of about 10:30 p.m., with early results showing Delgado slightly ahead with 51.77 percent of the vote (21,176 ballots) and Topalian with 48.23 percent (19,731 ballots). That was with 371 precincts reporting, and another 41 still to come, according to Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean C. Logan.
But the election will only determine who will fill the seat for a few months, since the winner between Republican business owner Rita Topalian and Democrat Vanessa Delgado, the mayor of Montebello, will only serve out the balance of Mendoza’s term, which ends in December.
Voters in the district will vote again in November to pick a representative for the new term, which begins in January.
Topalian is on that ballot, but Delgado is not. Despite finishing second in the June primary to fill out the balance of Mendoza’s current term, she finished third in essentially the same field of candidates on the same ballot to claim the new term in January. Instead, Topalian will square off in that race with Democrat Bob Archuleta.
The bizarre elections results from June have put Delgado in an unusual situation. She told the Daily News in early July that she was unsure if she would even accept the seat if she wins because it might require her to surrender her elected post in Montebello to take a temporary job in the state Senate. But Delgado now says she will absolutely take the Senate post if she prevails, saying she wants to ensure the seat remains in the hands of a Democrat.
“I look forward to serving Senate District 32 no matter the length of the term,” Delgado told City News Service.
She said the Montebello City Attorney’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office are still reviewing whether she will have to resign as mayor if she wins the Senate race, but she expects to have a definitive answer in a matter of days.
“Though my term will be short, I intend to make the most of it by working on legislation that addresses California’s affordable housing crisis and ensuring that our district gets its fair share of resources,” Delgado said. “… I am committed to the democratic ideals that this country was founded on.”
Democrats are anxious to hold onto the seat because it would push them closer to a supermajority in the Senate.
Topalian has run twice for the state Assembly, in 2004 and 2104. She and her husband have lived in the Whittier area for about three decades.
On her campaign website, she says her priorities include repealing the recent statewide gas tax, protecting Proposition 13 and working “to strengthen and improve our education system to ensure that it provides the very best to the young minds and future voters of California.”
Topalian told CNS she has “integrity” and “standards” and “will always do what is right for California and not what is best for the political party.”
“I have been a community volunteer in Whittier for more than 30 years,” she told CNS. “I also worked for retired state Sen. Bob Margett for 14 years. I know what the job is about, and I think I can represent the residents of this district better than any of the other candidates.”
The district includes Artesia, Bellflower, Buena Park, Cerritos, Commerce, Downey, Hacienda Heights, Hawaiian Gardens, La Habra Heights, La Mirada, Lakewood, Los Nietos, Montebello, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, Rose Hills, Santa Fe Springs, South Whittier and Whittier.
Updates to the vote tally will be made throughout the evening as ballots arrive from all 408 polling places to the Norwalk Headquarters for tabulation.