The Voters Have Spoken! Our Wrap-Up of Election 2022

The 2022 Beverly Hills municipal election is behind us and the voters have spoken: incumbents Lester Friedman and John Mirisch will return to City Council. They will be joined by Sharona Nazarian — a lesser-known city commissioner who nevertheless came within six votes of besting front-runner incumbent Friedman. Competition for the third available council seat was stiff too: in a large field of candidates Mirisch managed to hold off fellow incumbent Wunderlich by 74 votes — a margin of only one third of one percent — while former planning commissioner Andy Licht put in a respectable showing for fifth place. Let’s look at the results.

City Council

Front-Runners

Front-runners Lester Friedman and Sharona Nazarian pulled ahead in the preliminary counts and never looked back. When the final election results were certified they each had a five percentage-point advantage over the rest of the field. And it was a large field: eleven candidates were vying for three seats. These front-runners were able to break through with a campaign message and brand that connected with voters.

Council 2022 chart final
The Renters Alliance City Council chart looks different than the chart posted by the city clerk. That’s because our chart shows each candidate’s proportion of ballots cast rather than the proportion of votes cast in this race. The difference is that our approach highlights each candidate’s success in persuading a voter to pull the lever for the candidate; the clerk’s chart shows each candidate’s share of all votes cast. It is all about the denominator: to establish each Council candidate’s percentage we divide the candidate’s votes by the 9,041 ballots because each ballot represents one voter. The clerk copies-and-pastes the registrar’s charts (lazy!) which use a denominator of 19,178 to represent all votes cast. We think our approach better reflects these candidates’ relative success in winning the support of the electorate.

Lester FriedmanIncumbent Les Friedman won 3,571 votes to take the top spot by barely edging-out relative unknown Nazarian. Friedman himself is not that well known despite five years on Council and having served in the ceremonial post of mayor during the pandemic. He is a (relatively) conservative establishment figure on Council — thoughtful and deliberative but not necessarily a natural leader much less an ideologue. It is fair to say that there was some surprise that Friedman took first place.

Much of the credit for the Friedman showing goes to his campaign manager, kingmaker Judie Fenton, who is the wife of a former popular mayor and a current professional legislative advocate registered to lobby for the Hilton. Fenton was behind both of Councilmember Julian Gold’s campaigns too. She knows how to run a campaign and has a large rolodex — and that’s not a metaphorical rolodex either. She’s old school Beverly Hills politics.

An interesting footnote to Friedman’s hard-fought victory: his son Adam Friedman was charged by the Los Angeles County District Attorney this week with felony identity theft for standing-up a fake Facebook page purportedly for candidate Nazarian. The fake page showed Nazarian supporting Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon who is facing a recall that was unanimously opposed by Beverly Hills City Council.

Sharona NazariaSharona Nazarian is arguably the least well-known of the major candidates yet she pulled in 3,565 for a close second-place finish — only 6 votes shy of first place! First place confers bragging rights, and it allows the first-place finisher an earlier term as ceremonial mayor, but otherwise makes little difference in the running of the city.

Nazarian served on little-watched Human Relations Commission before moving 18 months ago to the little-watched Public Works Commission. The latter is good prep for Council but won’t help the recognition quotient. The campaign mailers did certainly put her best foot forward. However like many establishment candidates the messaging was generic and touched on common themes that we saw across the campaigns.

Then there is the “smear” as Nazarian called it: the fake Facebook page that probably slighted her the handful of votes she needed to cinch first place. The ruse resulted in a criminal complaint followed by some search warrants and ultimately a felony charge for Friedman’s son (he has pleaded not guilty).

This wouldn’t be the first dirty trick in Beverly Hills election history. Our Council races are small-town politics with big stakes and that makes voters vulnerable to the dark art of dirty tricks. Most don’t even come to light!

John MirischJohn Mirisch barely made third place with 2,634 votes. That must have been disappointing for this three-term incumbent. In prior contests he had been the top vote-getter with clear messaging and campaign themes that touch on community preservation, slow-growth, and local autonomy in the face of legislative overreach by the “evil empire” legislature in Sacramento.

Mirisch is also a champion of government transparency and in his campaign has railed against the influence of former mayors now registered as professional lobbyists and other shadow city officials who manage to influence policy from behind the scenes.

Mirisch is a strong messenger who has made his mark with some controversial stances, and he often finds himself at the losing end of 4–1 votes. That endeares him to an older and more traditional segment of the electorate who like a strong no-change messenger, however this distant third-place showing suggests that the broader electorate either didn’t embrace that message or, more likely, thought that three terms was enough for this incumbent. (Not coincidentally, the term-limits Measure TL passed with 82% of the vote.)

Also-Ran Candidates

Bob WunderlichIncumbent Bob Wunderlich barely missed grabbing the third of three available seats when the campaign music stopped. With 2,560 votes he fell 74 votes behind Mirisch according to the certified results.

Why the relatively weakest showing among the three incumbents? Wunderlich’s low-key demeanor does not necessarily lend itself to stumping, for one thing. He’s too modest. And he seems constitutionally averse to scoring political points. The thoughtful and deliberate approach that was such a credit to his time on the Council dais evidently was not enough of a calling card to entice voters who otherwise were not likely to be acquainted with the substance of his arguments. After ten years as the city’s representative to the Metropolitan Water District, one term on City Council, and year as mayor, Wunderlich will again enjoy his Tuesdays.

Andy LichtAndy Licht came in fifth with 2,476 votes. That was a bit of a surprise because Licht has been around City Hall for a long time: he served for many years on the city’s Traffic & Parking Commission before undertaking long stint as planning commissioner. He is a good-humored, self-deprecating and generally well-liked guy without a sharper edge that can elevate the negatives, as the consultants say.

Moreover he is a member of the country club set that has long exerted influence over civic affairs. Forget Facebook! In Beverly Hills it is the in-real-life social networks matter. And Licht has a lot of IRL friends. Yet Licht was evidently unable to cut through the campaign noise and he placed fifth.

As for message, Licht campaigned on a positive hometown theme — “I love Beverly Hills” — and his many plentiful campaign mailers appealed to the broadest swath of the electorate: pro-public safety (like all leading campaigns) with shout-outs for fiscal and environmental sustainability. He even checked the pro-tenant box! “Andy will support the rights of renters — including rent control, habitability, and stopping no-fault evictions,” one mailer said.

(For the record, no-just-cause evictions were ended by Council in 2018 but no-fault eviction such as for redevelopment and remodeling is permitted by state law and can’t be ended by a vote of City Council.)

Lagging Candidates

Vera MarkowitzSixth-place finisher Vera Markowitz with 1,924 votes missed a Council seat by about four percentage points. Evidently Markowitz couldn’t connect with voters. For one thing, she brought a sharper edge to the campaign rehearsing her years of criticism of City Council. It was a pointed contrast to Licht and most other candidates. Markowitz also took a different tack by making former police officers the voice of her campaign. Retired officers sen letters of support directly to voters using letterhead cribbed from the sheriff’s office.

Critics pounced on the misleading letterhead and it wasn’t the first time. Markowitz was slapped with a cease-and-desist letter from the city attorney after using what looked like a city seal on her own letterhead in a letter to voters aligning herself with the city’s emergency services program. She claimed a role as founder but the program itself doesn’t acknowledge that role.

Darian BojeauxDarian Bojeaux pulled-in 834 votes to finish in seventh place. This is a first-time candidate with a single-issue focus best summed-up by her memorable campaign slogan, “Keep building heights low with Darian Bojeaux!” On the stump she claimed that City Hall is beholden to the “vested interests” and other shadow policymakers — making common cause with Mirisch while being careful not to siphon voters from the candidate.

Bojeaux ran a respectable and substantial campaign that also highlighted concerns about government transparency and ethics. But that message didn’t connect and she distantly trailed next-place finisher Markowitz. Give credit where it’s due: this first-time candidate put her money where he mouth is by largely self-funding her campaign.

The Less-Credible Candidates

The remaining four candidates didn’t really campaign at all. Evidently none sent direct mail to voters despite a hotly-contested contest that really demanded it. Nor did they spend much on advertising or lawn signs. In fact two of the candidates neither collected nor spent even one dollar on the race. These candidates simply grifted by taking advantage of campaign forums and BHTV interviews but otherwise didn’t make any apparent effort to connect directly with voters.

Shiva BagheriEighth-place finisher Shiva Bagheri pulled-in 512 votes. On one hand, her support could have been greater because the candidate delivered a strong conservative message (“God, family, country”) and never more memorably than in the guise of a cheerleader (the video has since been pulled down). That message might have appealed to the Trump-inclined voters in northern precincts which did vote in the majority Trump in 2020.

Shiva Bagheri, cheerleaderOn the other hand, it is a surprise that she won as many votes as she did given a quixotic campaign centered around he claimed leadership role in the anti-mask ‘freedom rallies’ of 2020. That was not a campaign winner: in Beverly Hills the only thing worse than a civil rights demonstration is the accompanying traffic snarl.

The certified results show that Bagheri’s erratic fringe campaign didn’t put conservative values on the scoreboard. That’s probably because her campaign was exclusively about the candidate herself.

Kevin KugleyKevin Kugley with 405 votes in ninth place evidently didn’t succeed in communicating his generic conservative message to voters. There were a few posters and lawn sighs around town, sure, but no direct mail to voters and his website was a bare-bones affair. In fact it featured only this succinct message: “I will help restore our City’s past glory and safety, while leading its next generation into its future.”

Like other trailing candidates Kugley took advantage of forum appearances to garner free media. That is not to be confused with earned media because the candidate didn’t earn any. Rumor has it that he was able to hang his poster at the South Beverly newsstand by promising proprietor Al that he will bring back cigarettes for sale (which will never happen).

A.B. Bhatia is the third conservative candidate in this nonpartisan race was finished badly with 351 votes. That is either a robust endorsement relative to the zero effort he put into the race; or the voters slighted him despite what should be a popular, family-friendly, pro-schools message. Bhatia too relied on free media and evidently didn’t collect or spend a dollar to reach voters. There was not even a website.

Robin RoweRobin Rowe placed last with 346 votes. Unlike the other trailing candidates this was Rowe’s third citywide race, having run unsuccessfully for election to City Council in spring of 2020 and then for a seat on the school board that fall.

Defeat should not come as any surprise as this candidate stuck by his previous playbook: pledge not to collect or spend any money and then present a dubious bio characterized by exaggerated (if not outright false) claims which no media outlet has evidently questioned. The only candidate technologist, the scant outreach he had was a bare-bones website circa 1995.

All of the less-credible candidates had a few things in common. They weren’t especially engaged in civic affairs prior to running for office and were demonstrably unfamiliar with city policies. All saw City Hall as broken and only they could fix it. And none made any effort to connect directly with voters. Then again the bar for running for City Council is very low: just twenty-five bucks and and the signatures of 20 Beverly Hills registered voters. Perhaps we need a higher bar!

Treasurer

Incumbent treasurer Howard Fisher sailed to victory by dispatching his challengers with 4,100 votes (about 63% of votes cast).His closest challenger Jake Manaster was 2,222 votes behind (28%) while also-ran candidate Gabrielle Pantera-Rowe came in a distant third with 619 votes (9%).

Treasurer 2022 chart final

Fisher’s first-place finish suggests the power of incumbency. Few among the electorate likely know the candidate but they know the incumbent must be doing OK because the city’s not bankrupt. As we said in our candidate wrap-up, the vote for Treasurer is not likely to be an informed vote. There is no obvious metric for performance and in any case this is a low-profile position that next-to-nobody knows anything about. Candidates merely need to sound credible to have a shot with the incumbent enjoying a clear advantage.

And about that credibility… unknown candidate Pantera Rowe won 9% of the vote even though she didn’t mount much of a campaign and presented dubious (if not downright bogus) qualifications for the job. That so many were willing to trust an unknown and inexperienced candidate with the responsibility of investing the city’s millions should be cause for concern.

Term Limits

Term limits supporters ran away with this contest: a whopping 82% of voters want city elected officials to serve for no more than three terms.

Measure TL chart final

Term limits really killed it. But why? Is it conservatism? The electorate does skew more conservative compared neighbors in surrounding areas. Or does Measure TL represent something like a protest vote? Unlike candidates who may be unknown to many voters, an up-or-down ballot measure is an opportunity to signal dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Lastly voters may have sent a message to three-term incumbent Mirisch. His relatively weak victory (a distant third) and strong voter support for term limits suggests that the electorate may indeed feel that three terms is plenty. Funny story: last year City Council tried to keep Mirisch off the ballot with an ordinance that would have limited city elected officials to three terms total, but the law says that such an ordinance could not apply retroactively to terms served. That cleared Mirisch for the ballot and, in response, the Council majority voted to put it to voters.

More About This Election

The June 7, 2022 Beverly Hills municipal election was consolidated with the statewide primary. That wasn’t by choice. A recent state law requires localities with a history of low election turnout to schedule local elections to coincide with the statewide primary or general election. Beverly Hills is a low-turnout city: on average only 29% of registered voters cast a ballot in the ten cycles from 1997 to 2017. Both the 2020 and 2022 municipal elections were consolidated and consequently turnout in those contests exceeded 40%.

If consolidation boosted turnout from about 30% to 40%, then doesn’t that suggest that the additional one-third voters that cast a ballot in the past had sat-out our municipal election? Seems like the only reason they voted in our local contest was because they were casting a ballot in the county and state races. These voters are probably less likely to pay attention to civic affairs generally, and more to the point less likely to know these candidates.

That makes building the brand important. In this contest, like the municipal election two years ago, candidates had to rely on direct mail to make that connection. We saw that in our mailboxes: day after day, mailer after mailer, candidates were presenting voters with the broadest possible messaging: public safety, support for the police, fiscal responsibility and, always, some variation of “I love Beverly Hills.” That messaging was overwhelmingly focused on the concerns of single-family households.

For example, no candidate came to this multifamily apartment door to ask about alley crime or noise impacts from the nearby commercial corridor. And no campaign mailer spoke to multifamily households specifically. When residents who rent housing were mentioned at all a candidate forum, it was a cursory reference and it was reductive too (calling us “renters”). We are over half of city households and we vote. But do we? Candidates don’t seem to think so.

Got a comment about the election? Please get in touch with Renters Alliance!

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