By Daniel Larios
December 9, 2014 -- If Councilmember Tony Vazquez is elected mayor Tuesday night, as some political observers expect, he will become the first Latino mayor in Santa Monica since its founding in 1875.
Observers expect Vazquez to split the two-year term with Councilmember Ted Winterer, with Vazquez serving the first year as mayor and Winterer as mayor pro-tem. The two would switch roles the following year.
However, the selection of a mayor in Santa Monica has had a history of surprises, drama and debate, with individuals jockeying for power both from behind the scenes and on the dais.
Observers also speculate that longtime councilmember Kevin McKeown – the top vote getter on the November 4 council election – is in a prime position to win the post he’s been coveting for years.
Vazquez -- a more than 30-year resident of Santa Monica, homeowner and long-time community activist -- holds the distinction of being the only Latino councilmember in Santa Monica history when he was elected in 1990.
During his first term as a councilmember, Vazquez pushed for local jobs for Latino youth who reside in Santa Monica and was an advocate for homeless rights.
He was also a part of the SMRR majority on the City Council, along with Dennis Zane, Kelly Olsen, Judy Abdo and Ken Genser.
However, he lost his Council seat four years later after the police union targeted him in a hard-hitting campaign ad that depicted him as a friend of criminals, despite his vote in 1992 to add 20 new officers to the police force.
The ad, which featured a cartoon of the council member, targeted Vazquez for his voting record, which included opposing a curfew for teenagers he said would lead to discrimination.
The campaign angered both supporters of the liberal Democrat, who denounced the police union for using "attack-dog tactics," and opponents, who charged that the union had stooped to "wallow in the gutter to defame a candidate."
Twenty years later, in 2012, he ran for one of the four open seats on the council after former mayor Richard Bloom decided to run for Assembly and former mayor Bobby Shriver decided not to run for reelection.
Vazquez managed to regain his seat on the dais, placing fourth behind Winterer and Council members Terry O’Day and Gleam Davis. He received 11,939 votes (10.01 percent of the vote.)
Vazquez is not the only member of his family to hold an elected position in Santa Monica.
His wife, Maria Leon-Vazquez, has been a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu School Board since 2000.
Vazquez is only one of four members of a minority to serve on the Council. Former mayor Nat Trives, became the first African American councilmember in 1971, followed by Hillard L. Lawson who was appointed in 1973 to fill Anthony Dituri's unexpired term. Asha Greenberg, an East Indian, was elected in 1992.
While Santa Monica is comprised of 13 percent Latino residents, the area was once held by Mexican land owners.
In 1828, Don Francisco Sepulveda was given provisional title to Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica, which included the area between Santa Monica Canyon and what is now Pico Boulevard and northeasterly into the Westwood region.
In 1839, Ysidro Reyes and Francisco Marquez were provisionally granted the Rancho known as Boca de Santa Monica (Santa Monica Canyon).
It wasn’t until 1872 when Colonel Robert Symington Baker purchased the Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica from the Don Francisco Sepulveda heirs in 1872 for $55,000. Three years later, the town of Santa Monica was founded.