After waiting anxiously for more than three weeks, voters and candidates in Palm Springs can exhale: Riverside County released its final count Thursday evening showing history will soon be made again in the city and that two new members of the City Council will be seated later this month. The fate of another councilmember remains unknown.
Final results released by the Riverside County Registrar of Voters show Mayor Pro Tem Grace Garner holding off a challenge from TV personality Scott Nevins in District 1. That sets the stage for her to become the city’s first Latina mayor.
Garner’s elevation to the mayor’s seat will be the third straight year there has been a first for the role. Councilmember Christy Holstege became the city’s first female mayor two years ago, and current Mayor Lisa Middleton became the city’s first transgender mayor last year.
Garner’s camp was decidedly dejected, and Nevins’s camp was ecstatic on the night of the election after he pulled ahead of her after counting finished for the evening. But as subsequent counts were released, Garner found herself gaining. She eventually overtook Nevins after a count was released on Nov. 16. Totals released Thursday evening show her with a 1,463-1,399 margin, 51% to 49%.
In a social media post and email, Nevins conceded, but not with out a fight. He accused Garner of benefiting from “special interests” that established a fund specifically designed to evade the $4,900 individual contribution limit on local elections.
“In the latter weeks of this election when it looked like we were strongly ahead, the full force of those special interests were unleashed on our campaign,” he wrote. “…A dangerous precedent has been set and Grace has work to do to win back the trust of the people.”
For Garner and her campaign manager, Naomi Soto, Thursday’s final tally was predictably a relief.
“It was an emotional journey,” Soto said by phone. “We spent so much time talking to residents and all the different neighborhoods across District 1. We knew having Grace represent the district had been a game changer for so many communities. We put in the work, but waiting for that to be reflected was tough.”
Garner has little time to celebrate. The City Council meets again Monday evening, and in two weeks she begins a new, highly-visible role at City Hall.
“It was quite the wait to get here, but I am so honored and grateful,” she said via text. “Thank you to all the residents of District 1 and all the supporters and champions of my campaign. There is much work to be done and I cant wait to get started as the first Latina mayor of Palm Springs.”
Neither incumbent in district 2 or 3 elected to run for re-election, leaving those council seats vacant. Filling those seats, and joining Garner and Middleton on the dais in December, will be two residents with a history of service to both the community and on city commissions.
Jeffrey Bernstein, a small business owner and former chair of the Measure J Commission, won the District 2 contest over Renee Brown, 1,990-1,667 (54% to 46%). In District 3, Ron deHarte, chair of the city’s Human Rights Commission and president of Palm Springs Pride, defeated another small business owner, Joy Meredith, 1,966 to 1,073 (65% to 35%).
The chance of Holstege leaving the City Council for a seat in the California State Assembly remains a tossup. With 3,150 votes left to count in San Bernardino County, the District 4 councilmember trails by 20 votes — 84,647 to 84,627 — in the race for the Assembly’s District 47 seat. San Bernardino County is due to update its vote count again on Friday.
As new tallies had been released during much of the past two weeks, Holstege and Wallis have been separated by less than 1%. They again seesawed this week, with Wallis gaining a 12-vote lead on Tuesday, then Holstege holding a 21-vote advantage on Wednesday.
Since Holstege is midway through her second term on the City Council, any ascension to Sacramento will create a vacancy that would be filled by either a special election or an appointment. So far, four people have stepped up to say they would like to fill a potential vacancy.