Upstairs in the community room at The Plant, a historic General Electric building incorporated into a shopping center, the DJ dialed down the music.
“A little update from ABC7 news,” he said, looking at his cellphone. “Mr. [Tam] Nguyen is at 57 percent of the vote, and Maya is at 42.” The DJ paused, aware that this would be less-than-celebratory news for the family and staff of Maya Esparza, the nonprofit exec challenging the incumbent for the District 7 City Council seat for the second time. “Only 23 percent of the vote so far,” he added. “Very minor.”
At 9pm Tuesday, most of the ballots counted were from early voters.“It’s only 3 percent of our district,” said Miguel Santiago, 27, Esparza’s campaign manager.
By the next day, Esparza had nearly caught up to Nguyen. With all precincts reporting and 52 percent of ballots counted, she trailed him by just 13 votes. The next round of results is expected to go live at 5pm.
Esparza’s assembled party Tuesday night was mostly young and Latino. The vibe, relaxed. Nearby restaurant Famous Dave’s catered the evening’s spread, giving it more of a family BBQ feeling than that of a political event. When Esparza entered the room, the crowd cheered. She had just returned to her own party after making an appearance at the one hosted by the South Bay Labor Council, which was not having a good night.
The DJ’s earlier announcement hadn’t fazed Esparza. “We knocked on thousands and thousands of doors, and overwhelmingly, voters want change in this district,” she said. “I think voter turnout is going to go through the roof.”
While Nguyen’s rival watched surrounded by friends and supporters, the incumbent decided to ride out election night solo. His agenda for the day: City Council meeting, followed by a nap, and then some much-needed alone time.
“No party,” he told Fly before the polls closed Tuesday. “Too exhausted. Will sit in my car and log onto [Registrar of Voters] results. Then will shut down the phone and drive away for some much-needed rest and to regain my true self, a simple guy who loves music and community volunteering.”
Nguyen beat Esparza in 2014 by a margin of 200 votes. In his first term representing the largely working-class Latino and Vietnamese district, Nguyen has cast the swing vote on a number of crucial issues. But he has also proved unpredictable, alienating some of his early supporters by, among other things, opposing subsidized housing for the homeless in his district and opposing a motion that would have reduced the rent control cap.
During his re-election bid, Nguyen was criticized for insensitive comments he made about homeless people and trash in his district and for losing his license to practice law after the state bar disciplined him for failing to give a client some settlement money.
Esparza, who leads the All the Way Home campaign for the nonprofit Destination: Home was endorsed by the South Bay Labor Council and local Democrats.