The West Sacramento City Council is at an impasse as to how to fill a vacancy for a fifth member and looks to be headed toward a special election.

What that special election will look like, whether it will be a regular in-person election in November or a strictly mail-in process in August, is expected to be decided at the Council’s January 20 or February 3 meetings. As previously reported by the Sacramento OBSERVER, the vacancy was created after last November 3’s election, when City Councilmember Martha Guerrero was successful in her bid to become mayor. 

Councilmembers Quirina Orozco and Chris Ledesma have supported having data researcher Dr. Dawnte Early fill the open spot, as she was the next highest vote getter in the recent election. Dr. Early would be the first African American to serve on the West Sacramento City Council. Mayor Guerrero and Councilmember Norma Alcala, who garnered the second highest number of votes, want to open it up to applications and have the Council select someone from that pool. 

On January 7, the councilmembers were split down the middle in voting on whether to appoint Dr. Early outright or to open up an application process. Their meeting, held virtually due to COVID-19, was virtually a heated discussion about the matter. 

Councilmembers Orozco restated her belief that Dr. Early being on the council was the “will of the voters,” as demonstrated by the election results. To ignore that, she said, would be an “injustice.” Ms. Orozco said she received a multitude of letters from residents backing that stance.

“Close to 90 percent were in support of the third highest vote getter. There were more letters on this single issue than any other in the history of me being on the council, other than those I received following the tragic death of George Floyd,” she shared.

Mayor Guerrero acknowledged Dr. Early’s showing at the polls, but dismissed it at the same time, saying that the 14,000 people who didn’t vote for Dr. Early were the ones that were “extremely important” to her.

“I take a look at the data in its entirety,” Mayor Guerrero said. “And I would like to make sure that Council represents the vote in its entirety and not just the singular third highest vote getter. That is not accurate in representing the entirety of the City’s vote.”

Ledesma said while Mayor Guerro was welcomed to her opinion, it was an illogical one. He pointed out that the same math could be applied to both she and Councilmember Alcala, with some residents voting for them, and others, of course, who did not.

Several unions including the Sacramento Central Labor Council AFL-CIO, the West Sacramento Police Officers Association and the Sacramento Area Fire Fighters Local 522 all wrote letters to the council supporting an open-application process. 

A number of letters were also sent in support of the appointment of Dr. Early.

“Dr. Early is the leader that West Sacramento needs, now in this time period in our lives where we need well rounded and intelligent people from all backgrounds, gender, and ethnicities. Please do not disenfranchise the 8000+ voters, myself included, that have already expressed their desire and confidence in Dr. Early to represent us and serve our City,” resident Philippe Doherty wrote.

Marianne Estes, a 50-plus year resident of West Sacramento wrote, “The fact remains that 8,123 residents voted for Dawnte Early for City Council and Norma Alcala received 8,212 votes. A difference of 89 votes. This is significant in that there were several hundred ballots that were disqualified for various reasons and were not remedied by the voter to be included in the final count. As such, the 89 differential could have easily flipped the other way. Nonetheless, it is crystal clear that the will of the people have considered both candidates to be essentially equal in electability. This should be given sole consideration in your deliberations and the votes of residents should not be negated.”

Grassroots support for Dr. Early, also includes the Build.Black Coalition, that submitted a letter, signed by its chair, Les Simmons, pastor of the South Sacramento Christian Center and former candidate for the Sacramento City Council, and additionally by a number of other community leaders including Chet P. Hewitt, CEO of The Center at Sierra Health Foundation; Cassandra Jennings, President and CEO of the Greater Sacramento Urban League; Michael Lynch of Improve Your Tomorrow; and Derrell Roberts, cofounder of the Roberts Family Development Center.

“She received more than 8,000 votes in the November 2020 election, and came within 0.25 percent of being elected to City Council, losing by a mere 89 votes. She has a clear mandate from the voters of West Sacramento, who have had the opportunity to speak through exercising their vote only weeks ago. As elected leaders, it is your responsibility to listen to the voices of your constituents, and their message is loud and clear,” reads the Build.Black Coalition letter.

Whatever is decided, Dr. Early has vowed to keep her name, and her desire to serve, in the mix.

By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer