City Council Up in Air, School Board Settled

Primuth Moves Ahead in District 3 Council Contest

One of three races for City Council appeared by late Wednesday afternoon to have been possibly decided, but the margins of votes in the other two contests remained razor thin and their outcomes unclear because of the potential element of write-in votes.
Jon Primuth, a departing member of the local school board, had received 42.08% of the vote in District 3 as of the Review’s press deadline on Wednesday, or 903 votes. He was followed by Michelle Hammond with 749 votes (34.9%) and Alan Ehrlich with 360 (16.78%). A fourth challenger, Jaz Sawyer, netted 134 votes despite having suspended his campaign.
“Everyone had a strong, positive campaign with lots of energy,” Primuth said.
Meanwhile Evelyn Zneimer, currently serving as city clerk, held an 11-vote lead over incumbent Councilman Bob Joe in District 1, making it a race that could easily be decided by mail-in ballots. In District 2, Jack Donovan was the only candidate listed and had received 1,253 votes; however, a strong write-in campaign by Stephen Rossi, who was appointed to the council to finish the term of a member who resigned, won’t be reflected immediately because of the manner in which Los Angeles County tabulates those write-in votes.

Donovan said county officials told him during his campaign that there were 3,410 registered voters in District 3. Those officials are still tabulating how many ballots were cast in each jurisdiction, and Donovan said he has been playing with different mathematical scenarios in the meantime.
“I’m pretty close to what I’d call a magic number,” he added. “Again, you’ve got to make some assumptions” about voter turnout.
Rossi, who registered as a write-in candidate shortly after he was appointed in September to take over for Marina Khubesrian, did not respond to a message Wednesday. Khubesrian declined to seek reelection and then resigned altogether after admitting to have fabricated personas to email public comments that were harshly critical of some residents and former employees earlier this year.
Whichever candidates end up in City Hall for the next four years will have choppy waters to navigate because of the coronavirus pandemic, an upheaval in the ranks of city administrators in recent months, looming housing mandates from Sacramento and a cultural shift in the perception of law enforcement’s functions.
The pandemic upended the usual campaign strategies because of restrictions on close interactions with people and in holding gatherings.
Much of campaigning, whether for school board or City Council, is “very similar,” Primuth said, “but in COVID, you can’t have gatherings and you can’t go door to door, so it creates a lot of uncertainty about how much support there is in the community. I don’t think anyone had a good feel for how the election would turn out, so I was pleasantly surprised.”
In lieu of resuming the door-to-door campaigning that helped send him to the school board five years ago, Primuth said he found other ways to get out and about when he wasn’t making the rounds via Zoom or phone. He added that his family was more involved in the operation this time around.
“I walked or biked every street in District 3 every week since August,” he said. “I was trying to meet people. I got to know a lot of dog walkers. I think I may have gotten the dog vote.”
Donovan said much of his campaigning involved using the phone.
“I called an awful lot of people. I got more than 50% answering machines, and the people who I got past those answering machines, I got very few hang-ups,” he said. “The ones who were undecided were happy that a candidate called them, and those who were decided and had their mind made up, they were still happy to hear from a candidate.”
Zneimer, who also practices law and spent much of Wednesday in court with her clients, said she felt upbeat about her campaign, which included a traditional hallmark of local politicking — walking the town.
“This is really the first time I campaigned,” she said — she was either unchallenged or her opponent dropped out in prior city clerk campaigns. “I did door-to-door and in the last two weeks I really pounded the pavement, and that made the difference, I think. Incumbents have a lot of power in name recognition. I always treated it as uphill and being the underdog.”
Joe, who is serving as mayor this year, said he was avidly watching for updated results Wednesday and declined to speculate on much.
“It’s very unusual,” he said, referencing the pandemic-related upheaval of the year. “Everything happened that could happen this year. Really, I can’t say much more until I hear more numbers.”

Martinez-Miller to Join Abajian on School Board

The local school board will have a pair of familiar faces back for the next four years, should their comfortable leads in Tuesday’s election hold out.
Suzie Abajian, who had 6,925 votes as of the Review’s press deadline on Wednesday, appeared headed to a second term with the South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education. Meanwhile, Patricia Martinez-Miller wasn’t far behind — at 6,212 votes — and seemed poised to return to the seat she held from 1989-2001.
“I know we have some challenges ahead,” Abajian said Wednesday, “and I’m glad to bring my experience and expertise on the board for the last five years to get through these challenging times and still offer quality education for all of our students.
“I think Patricia has a lot of experience and she has knowledge of the educational field,” Abajian added. “That’s going to be very helpful, and I’m looking forward to working with her on the board.”
Martinez-Miller said she, too, was excited over her likely return to the board and the opportunity to work with a new group of board members in steering the district through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think they’re a good, strong group,” she said.
In third place as of Wednesday was Erik Gammell, with 2,894 votes, while Alan Reynolds had a fourth-place showing of 1,758 votes. Unlike the City Council, the school board’s elections are at-large and ask the city’s voters to pick up to however many seats are open (in this case, two).
“I think it’s important to have an election where you have multiple candidates running so you’re able to have those important discussions in the community about what matters,” Abajian said. “It’s healthy to have that conversation.”
Moving forward, the district will have to reckon with continuing financial tension related to the availability of state funding, a condition exacerbated by the pandemic. Additionally, California voters this week rejected Proposition 15, a measure aimed at evening the property tax playing field distorted by Proposition 13 in 1978. The district also is still working to sell its main office, a transaction that would enable the district to purchase the building across the street for its new headquarters.
Additionally, the board will have to focus on education quality and equity for students outside of the standardized test scores that have buoyed SPUSD’s strong reputation in California.
“One of the things that is very clear in the district is we have very high achievement scores and can certainly count ourselves as an achieving school district, but that does not necessarily mean that every student in the district is well served by the education we provide for them,” Martinez-Miller, a former educator, said. “The one thing that came across to me was an absolute need to understand what the interest is among the families and their students. If we can’t get all the interests out on the table … then we don’t move forward.”
Campaigning this time around was certainly a different experience because of the pandemic. The sole candidate forum was hosted on Zoom, and the political hopefuls had to utilize similar avenues to connect with voters. Door-to-door canvassing was extremely limited, if used at all.
“But I wasn’t going to shut myself in my bedroom,” Martinez-Miller said, “so I was out there and meeting people, socially distant and not doing anything to endanger them or me, and it was a very satisfying experience. I learned a lot of things about people.”
Abajian said she relied on her reputation developed over the past five years to help sell her reelection campaign through socially distant and virtual stumping.
“I connected with voters in those other ways,” she said. “They know that I’m committed to the schools and students, that I’m connected to parents and that I have the perspective of teaching in South Pasadena. I’m very grateful that the community has put their trust in me once again to be a leader in this school district.”