WEST SACRAMENTO – Eighty-nine votes. That’s all that kept an area woman from guaranteeing a spot as the first Black person to serve on the West Sacramento City Council.

African American data researcher Dr. Dawnte Early may still have a shot as a seat has been opened by Councilmember Martha Guerrero beating out Mayor Christopher Cabaldon. How that spot will be filled is now up for debate — a heated one. The new mayor and new council member Norma Alcala were sworn in during the December 9 meeting and the issue quickly divided the governing body.

Mayor Guerrero and Councilmember Alcala want to open it up to applications and have the Council select someone from that pool. The council has gone to this process twice in the past when someone had time remaining on their term upon retirement or leaving for another reason.
“This is a very different situation,” Dr. Early told the OBSERVER.

“We just had an election and we just had the biggest turnouts in West Sacramento history with something like 83 percent of registered voters voting, which is huge. The voters definitely just spoke, what argument do we (make) to say, ‘hey us four, three council members and mayor, should decide who goes to that seat, to go to applications?’” she added.

Mayor Guerrero said those who didn’t have the chance to campaign, raise money to run or be backed by an incumbent should be included. The latter comment seemed to be a direct dig at Dr. Early, who was supported by Cabaldon.

If the application process doesn’t produce a candidate, there would be a special election on November 2, 2021 and the seat would be vacant until that time.

There’s a third option of simply filling the spot with the person who had the next highest number of votes. That person would be Dr. Early, whose 8,123 votes was the fourth highest number anyone has received since 2014 and was more in losing than Ms. Guerrero and Chris Ledesma had in winning the last time they ran for city council in 2018.

“I came in third, but I came in as the fourth highest in recent West Sacramento history, that’s amazing and West Sacramento did that in this time of 2020,” Dr. Early said.

Councilmember Quirina Orozaco said the Council should listen to the “will of the people” — that doing anything else would be an “erosion of democracy.”

“If we’re talking about supporting diversity and minority voices and getting representation in our city we have the opportunity to have the first African American council member in our city. The voters said they wanted that and I think we need to respect that,” Councilmember Orozaco said.

Ron Price, who chairs West Sacramento’s Economic Development & Housing Commission also believes that the seat should go to Dr. Early.

“We just had an election and Dr. Early has shown her desire to serve the City as a council member, she separated herself by a few thousand votes from the next contender, I do not think it is necessary for the City and Ms. Early to spend time and money to repeat the election results during a pandemic. At this point I would recommend that City Council appoint Dawnte Early to the vacant City Council position,” Price said.

Price endorsed Dr. Early during her campaign and believes in what she could bring to the table.

“I’m sorry that she lost by less than a hundred votes. We had the opportunity to work together on the MBK Alliance (President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance) here in West Sacramento concerning restructuring the police department to deal with homelessness and use-of-force issues,” he said. “I was impressed by her perspective on race and institutional culture and the outcome of the meetings and our recommendations that were presented to the city council.”

Mayor Guerrero and Councilmember Ledesma will serve on the subcommittee that will determine with which option the council will go. The application process seemed to be a given after the meeting discussion. Despite the roller coaster that last month was, in being up one week and down another and waiting for official election results, Dr. Early says she remains ready to represent.

“If they go through an application process, I will absolutely put my name in the hat,” Dr. Early said.

She’d also run again if her application doesn’t put her on the council this time. She’s not giving up, in part, she says, to show her daughter and the girls in her Girl Scout troop, who would look at her and see their own futures, what’s possible.

“This is what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to step up, we’re supposed to serve. I am an example.”

By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer