PE.Com-Moreno Valley voters swept Mayor Tom Owings out of office on Tuesday after more than a year of upheaval.
Owings’ critics called the mayor, who has been linked to a corruption investigation, combative and divisive. Owings defended his record and said critics were part of an old guard that is resistant to changes he has made at City Hall.
Owings was not available for comment Tuesday night.
Residents involved in the recall campaign let out a large cheer when they saw the first results. Voters were favoring the recall by an overwhelming margin.
“Tom Owings was his own worst enemy,” said Debra Craig, a leader with the recall group Moreno Valley First. “He didn’t understand politics. He thought he was the CEO of Moreno Valley.”
Voters in council District 3 were asked two questions: whether Owings should be recalled and, if so, who should replace him in representing the eastern part of the city.
A simple majority was needed for the recall to succeed.
George Price, a former city parks and recreation director who was active in the recall campaign, won twice as many votes as his nearest competitor in a field of seven. He promised a change of tone.
“I want to bring back respect to people on the council and the residents who come up to speak,” Price said.
Price will serve the remainder of the term, which expires in 2016.
Councilwoman Victoria Baca, who is mayor pro tem, will likely take Owings’ place as mayor, a mostly ceremonial position selected by the council. However, Baca is being targeted for a recall in the November election.
The campaign against Owings began after investigators from the FBI and Riverside County District Attorney’s Office raided his home as part of a political corruption investigation on April 30 last year. Also searched were the homes of three other council members, a real estate broker and the offices of developer Highland Fairview.
No charges have been filed against Owings. District attorney’s officials have only said their investigation is continuing. Owings has denied any wrongdoing.
Recall organizers also accused him of being arrogant and dismissive of those who disagree with him.
Owings has called his critics “whackos” and “smear merchants”; he accused opponents of a proposed mega-warehousing project of being racists and anti-Semitic. He has accused the union representing Riverside County sheriff’s deputies who police the city of wanting to bankrupt Moreno Valley through exorbitant cost increases.
He has accused the teachers union of being behind the recall because of his criticism of the Moreno Valley Unified School District.
Supporters of Owings say he has fought for the city’s interests and taken on those outside the city, such as neighboring Riverside and Riverside County.
The mayor and his allies outspent recall proponents by an 8-to-1 margin. Campaign spending reports this year through mid-May show that Owings and other committees supporting him spent just over $40,000.
Two pro-recall groups spent just under $5,000.