The surprise shift in the days after the polls closed came as provisional and mail-in ballots were being counted. The uncertified totals as of noon last Saturday, and as Desert Star Weekly went to press on the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 12, had Sanchez at 1,042 votes (43.2 percent) and Parks at 1,030 votes (42.7 percent) — a whopping difference of 12 votes.
The third candidate in the mayoral race, economist John-Paul Valdez, garnered 340 votes (14.1 percent).
Parks clearly wasn’t thrilled with this development when approached by local media, crediting the numbers shift in part to a late absentee ballot campaign by Sanchez she felt may have been strategist possibly by outside union and/or Democratic Party efforts. She affirmed that she would consider seeking a recount, which could delay the final certification of the election indefinitely.
Sanchez countered Parks in interviews by saying that his own neighborhood-by-neighborhood foot campaign, along with his high visibility at local businesses, is what ultimately helped him pull ahead.
The turn in the race results was overshadowed by the news that the city was facing a projected $3.37 million budget shortfall (with some rumors pegging that figure significantly higher) and that municipal bankruptcy might be in its near-future.
Of the three candidates, Sanchez had most sternly warned about the dangers of the city’s teetering finances in mayoral candidate interviews conducted by this publication last month.
“I’m feeling great about winning the election,” Sanchez said confidently in a chat at Desert Star Weekly’s offices this past Tuesday morning. “But the deficit points out the seriousness of the challenges we face. We were led to believe it was at least a manageable situation (based on the city’s reserves), but this was a bombshell.”
The timing of the news about the shortfall, coming almost immediately after the initial election results in the middle of last week, has also raised questions about who in the Desert Hot Springs city government knew how dire the city’s finances were — and when — and whether specific information was deliberately withheld until after the election.
“That’s something we’re still trying to find out,” said Sanchez, noting that the interim city manager, Bob Adams, was vacationing overseas at the time of the shortfall revelation. Adams has since said that city leaders were warned weeks ago of dire budge problems.
Sanchez, who has long expressed frustration with the city’s seemingly entrenched negative public perception, acknowledged that this latest Desert Hot Springs body blow wasn’t going to make his job as mayor any easier.
“The people here are fed up with that,” he said. “Somehow we must all work together to straighten out the budget issues, which will require some tough cuts, and get to a point where Desert Hot Springs can reach its full potential.”
Third-place mayoral candidate John-Paul Valdez, meanwhile, told Desert Star weekly that he had initially intended to send out a press release about the post-election drama, but decided to hold off on commenting — for now.
“Because the information that is reaching my campaign has yet to be verified, I cannot speak further on the subject,” Valdez said in an email. “Many questions remain, but rather than make speculative statements or open the wound and city to further suffering as regards the election, I am going to wait for the recount at least.”