Artesia Democrat Tony Mendoza fell short Wednesday in his effort to reclaim the state Senate seat he lost due to sexual harassment allegations.
In Tuesday’s special election to fill the remainder of Mendoza’s term, which expires at the end of the year, Republican business owner Rita Topalian topped the 11-candidate field, but she was well short of the amount needed to claim the seat outright, leaving her destined for an Aug. 7 runoff.
Mendoza had been in a close battle for the second spot on that runoff ballot, but as vote-counting continued Wednesday morning, he lost ground to fellow Democrat and Montebello Mayor Vanessa Delgado.
Residents of the 32nd Senate District actually voted twice. They were asked first to choose from among 11 candidates to complete Mendoza’s current term, which ends in December, and then among the candidates vying fill the seat for the new term that begins in January.
Mendoza was on both ballots, but he received far less voter support in the race for the January term. In that contest, Topalian again led the way, but Delgado slipped to third place, with Democrat Bob Archuleta claiming the second spot in the November runoff. Mendoza finished a distant fourth.
Mendoza staunchly insisted he did not do anything to warrant being removed from office, but resigned as the Senate prepared a resolution to expel him from his 32nd Senate District seat.
A Senate Rules Committee investigation concluded “that it is more likely than not that Senator Mendoza engaged in unwanted and sexually suggestive behavior with multiple staff members over a period of several years.”
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.
Mendoza served in the state Assembly from 2006-12, and was elected to the Senate in 2014. He is a former Artesia city councilman and mayor.
Voters in two Assembly districts also had to cast two ballots on Tuesday.
In the 39th Assembly District, which includes North Hollywood, Mission Hills, Sylmar, Arleta and Lake View Terrace, Democrat Luz Maria Rivas, a former Los Angeles public works commissioner, defeated Republican Ricardo Antonio Benitez, a business owner, in the race to complete the term of Raul Bocanegra — who resigned in November, also in the face of sexual harassment allegations. Bocanegra’s term also runs through December.
However, Rivas and Benitez will be battling for the seat once more in November, to take on the full term starting in January.
In the 45th Assembly District, Democrat Jesse Gabriel, a constitutional rights attorney and a member of the county Commission on Local Government Services, defeated Republican Justin Clark, a 19-year-old Cal State Northridge student, to fill the remainder of the term of Matt Dababneh. Dababneh also resigned due to harassment allegations.
But the same pair will face off again in November for the full term, as they easily topped five other candidates vying to fill the seat for the full term beginning in January.
The district includes Encino, Northridge, Reseda, Woodland Hills, Tarzana, Calabasas and Winnetka.
Back in the state Senate, meanwhile, voters approved a recall of Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton. Newman was targeted in a recall drive spearheaded by Republican activist and former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, who said the effort was prompted by Newman’s vote in favor of a statewide gas tax.
Former Republican Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang, whom Newman narrowly defeated in the 2016 election, topped the six-candidate field looking to replace Newman, followed by a dead heat between Republican Fullerton Councilman Bruce Whitaker and Democrat Joseph Cho.