Opponent has not conceded election to Karina Quintanilla

PALM DESERT – For the past two weeks since Election Day, Karina Quintanilla has led with about 60% of the vote over her sole opponent in the race for the District 1 seat, Susan Marie Weber. But in Trumpian fashion, Weber has neither called Quintanilla to congratulate her nor conceded.

It could be the first of many headwinds Quintanilla faces as she prepares to join the five-member body in December. The current City Council, comprised of one Caucasian mail and four Caucasian females, have worked together for years.

Quintanilla, a Latina, will add a new dimension, voice and spunk to the group, making history. She is he first Latina elected to this community’s City Council. There might be some who give her the cold shoulder. Do not forget that Quintanilla was one of two women who filed a lawsuit against the city of Palm Desert to establish voting districts.

The lawsuit involving Quintanilla claimed the city violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 and states that the city’s at-large voting system prevents Latino residents from electing candidates of their choice or influencing the outcome of Palm Desert’s City Council elections.

The Malibu-based law office of Kevin Shenkman, of Shenkman & Hughes, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Lorraine Salas and Quintanilla.

Quintanilla and Salas agreed to two voting districts in a settlement with the city to expedite the process ahead of the November election. But there is more to come, according to Quintanilla.

About 65.2 percent — or 33,700 — of Palm Desert’s 51,700 residents are white and 25.9 percent — or 13,400 — are Hispanic or Latino, according to Data USA,

Uken Report talked with Quintanilla about her historic victory and what she sees ahead.

Uken Report: To what do you attribute your win?

Karina Quintanilla: I attribute the win to having a grassroots campaign with strong staff. So, between the campaign manager, Charlie Ara, with the Palm Desert Greens Democrats, he and the Palm Desert Greens Democrats have really been leading the charge for districts for some time. Being able to work with them, and proceed with the district issue, and building the familiarity with some of the individuals made it more possible to have them come on board and form part of a team, and little individual pieces.

If we think of an anthill, how much can these little ants move? That’s kind of how it was. Both of my daughters had the opportunity to have Mrs. (Gabrielle) Jackson as a teacher at Lincoln Elementary, and she was a co-campaign manager. She herself made the campaign T-shirts; she made the first banner. So, this was very much a grassroots effort.

Being able to go and knock on doors, a lot of people after we made that connection, they said they felt hopeful. I don’t know if you’ve ever had someone tell you, “You give me hope,” but those words are very powerful. That made it easy to push past how tired I was, and go walk the three-and-a-half, four miles that day of canvassing to get the word out.

I’m very pleased that we had such a high turnout for the City Council race because four years ago, I believe what we looked at, there was only about 50% of residents that really voted in the City Council race. It’s very important to let people see how local elections impact them more directly than even the presidential and federal elections, but those get a lot more visibility. Being able to explain to people how the local issues impacts them has made a very big difference.

UR: As you know, of the Palm Desert City Council have worked together for years. How do you plan to break in and become part of the family, so to speak?

Karina Quintanilla: Well, I am very optimistic that everybody will be professionals. And that’s how it is every time you join a new organization, everybody finds their footing, and they find how their strengths complement each other, and where the shortcomings mean that you have strength in other areas. I think that coming from education, it’s an opportunity to find ways to build consensus.

But I expect that the council will be professional. I’ve heard from two of the four members already. I’m looking forward to the response from the others, and looking to build some coalition with them as well.

UR: Has anyone from the Palm Desert City Council called to congratulate you?

Karina Quintanilla: Yes. I first heard from (Councilmember) Kathleen (Kelly). She’s the (Mayor Pro Tem) and will be the next mayor. It was great to have a chance to chat with her. I shared some of my vision, and she shared a little bit of her vision. I’m very excited that she likes some of my ideas for the next steps.

Then I got a call from (Councilmember) Jan Harnik as well. She’s been very collegial and has offered her help and support and to answer questions. And those are the two I’ve heard from. I have not heard anything regarding a concession, even though I haven’t dropped below 60% of the vote since Election Day. .

UR: What is the first thing you want to do after being sworn in?

Karina Quintanilla: I have said many times that the very first issue will be to move to end at-large districts, in favor of the individual districts. That’s the first thing. That’s been something that has come up with more people who wrote to the campaign, and I think that that’s a valuable discussion that needs to be held.

As I have mentioned many times, Lorraine (Salas) and I decided to settle because we wanted this to be done with transparency, out in the open, and not cost the city more money. And if the city doesn’t feel that it is viable to go to five districts, well, I already know other individuals that are working on having their own lawsuit to continue the issue.

I think it’s really the wisest for the city to look at the financial impact (of a lawsuit) and consider, when during the time of COVID, if this is really the best time, and best use of those funds.

UR: You’ve made history in Palm Desert. What does that really mean to you?

Karina Quintanilla: Well, as somebody who right at this very moment is sitting at Cielo Vista Elementary School, where I attended kindergarten, the school is where I learned to speak English, it is an opportunity to reflect on what that means for kiddos like myself, that grew up without seeing those kinds of role models that look like us. And the opportunity to have a role model that speaks like you, that speaks in your language, those things are very powerful. That’s what I reflect on.

I don’t necessarily feel any ego boost. Someone texted me the day after the election and said, “Oh, are you beaming?” And I have yet had a moment of beaming because it’s understanding the magnitude of the work ahead, and the ability to connect with as many people. I’m relying on my background in higher education as an academic adviser where it’s most frequent that students will kind of go unheard from for a long time until there’s a crisis at hand.

Being able to listen to someone in a moment where they’re feeling distressed, and chaos, and uncertainty, and being able to talk them down from that a little bit and say, “Okay, well, how much of this is in your control? How much is not? How can I help? What are the resources? And how can we get through this together?”

Those are the kinds of skills that don’t come from serving on boards and commissions, which was what everybody’s response to me was. A lot of the sentiments that were out there were, “Who do you think you are? You haven’t been around long enough. You haven’t put in your dues on boards and commissions.”

That I think was the big difference, I think that a lot of people underestimated my campaign, my ability to connect with individuals, and just underestimated how ready the city is for change, and to move in a different direction.

UR: Is there anything that you would like to add?

Carina Quintanilla: One thing I could add is, ‘Be the change.’ We are all struggling right now. We are all panicking at a prolonged stay in the purple (tier). If we all do a little bit more, as I mentioned earlier, like the ants, and come together and work like ants, we can protect the whole Coachella Valley.

I saw something that said, “If we’re all in a boat and one person decides to start digging out the bottom of his cabin, and he keeps going further and further and further until he makes a hole in the boat. Well, yes, it was his cabin he destroyed, but now the whole boat is sinking.” And that’s kind of where we are.

I’m hoping that I can share a message of compassion, and hope, and solidarity, to say we need to move past red and blue. We need to move past all of that and look at science, and look at what our medical experts are telling us, because it’s going to take all of us. I urge every individual to be the change. Don’t count on others to control the virus for you. Be the change, make sure you wash your own hands, make sure that you encourage others to wash their hands; and it really takes a team effort.

According to the Riverside County Registrar’s office, ballot counting for ballots received on or before Election Day is complete. Approximately 45,000 timely postmarked vote-by-mail ballots remain to be processed. Under state law the office must continue to accept timely postmarked ballots through 11/20. In addition, approximately 25,000 provisional ballots still must be processed. The next updated results will be posted today, Nov. 17 at 6 p.m.

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