By Michael Miller
1:15 PM PST, November 14, 2012
If there's been an upset in this year's Huntington Beach City Council race, historically speaking, it's incumbent Devin Dwyer's fifth-place finish.
Dwyer, the city's mayor pro tem for the last year, held 10% of the vote as of Wednesday morning, placing behind Barbara Delgleize and the three candidates who stand to take the three open seats: Jill Hardy, Jim Katapodis and Dave Sullivan.
The Orange County Registrar of Voters has not yet certified the results, but Dwyer's standing has not changed since last Tuesday.
According to Senior Deputy City Clerk Rebecca Ross, no incumbent council member has lost in Huntington since 1996, when Vic Leipzig (a former Independent columnist) finished fourth. (Sullivan, coincidentally, was also among the candidates who finished ahead of him.)
So what went wrong for Dwyer?
"I think it was a perfect storm when I look back at it, all the things that contributed to it," the councilman said Tuesday.
As for what could have contributed, Dwyer pointed to a number of possibilities: the influence of the city's police and fire unions, with which he's sometimes been at odds; his shaky relationship with parts of his conservative base; and even the overall Democratic sentiment that accompanied President Obama's reelection victory.
Mayor Don Hansen and Councilman Matthew Harper, who expressed sadness about Dwyer's apparent loss, both surmised that his "yes" vote regarding a plastic bag ban may have played a role in voters' rejection.
The council voted in August 2011 to direct city staff to bring forward a law that would ban stores from using plastic bags — with a few exceptions. The decision sought to reduce litter by encouraging customers to stock reusable bags instead.
Planning Director Scott Hess said the council directed staff to prepare an ordinance and environmental impact report but will not vote on the matter until the city has received enough funds to cover the cost of the report. The city is still awaiting the money.
Hansen said the mayor pro tem may have made other votes that went against traditional Republican philosophy, but the plastic bag ban was the most damaging.
"It's unfortunate for Devin," he said. "I supported Devin and still do. I think that Devin has a couple votes in his record that alienated a good chunk of his base."
Harper, who applauded Dwyer for his work on the council, said the vote may have cost him some key support, including from the Orange County Register, which endorsed Delgleize, Sullivan and Erik Peterson.
"I think he added a very beneficial point of view to the council, but I think it's very clear that his position on plastic bags harmed him significantly, and his decision to make that a priority issue for this year ultimately led a lot of people who had supported him previously to not continue to support him," Harper said.
Dwyer agreed that the plastic bag vote may have hurt him politically but stood by his vote, which he called environmentally beneficial for the region.
"I would still vote the same way today," he said. "I think it's a very sound idea."
Whatever votes he may have made contrary to Republican beliefs, Dwyer still got heavy support from party leaders this fall. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), state Sen. Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) and Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) were among those who endorsed him.
As a councilman, Dwyer has served as a liaison to the Environmental Board, Youth Board and Allied Arts Board and also to Sunset Beach, which the city recently annexed. He counts his support of the Huntington Beach Community Garden, which opened in March 2011 to give residents a place to grow crops, as one of his greatest accomplishments.
"I consider that one of the feathers in my cap," Dwyer said. "I'm proud to be part of that process."
Dwyer has also won attention at times for his feisty temperament. In 2009, after receiving his 12th parking ticket for failing to move his car in time for the street sweeper, he threatened to shred the ticket on the dais and resign if he couldn't change Huntington's street-sweeping policy.
He later backed down on that threat and went on to help launch a new texting system to alert residents of street-sweeping days and other coming events.
Dwyer said he hasn't made up his mind yet whether to run in 2014. Even after his term ends, though, he still plans to be a common face at council meetings.
"I do plan to go to the dais when police and fire contracts come up," he said. "I'm not going to wither away."