Vanessa Quiroz-Carter leads Frank Barba in the race for the vacant District 2 Watsonville City Council seat.
Unofficial results released by the Santa Cruz County elections department at 8:57pm on Tuesday night showed Quiroz-Carter had a 59-vote lead on Barba.
Only 339 votes had been counted in the special election that was set into motion after Aurelio Gonzalez stepped down because of a family health emergency in September.
There are 2,416 registered voters in District 2, which encompasses several neighborhoods east of Main Street through Beck Street—including the communities surrounding Watsonville High School—as well as portions of California Street and Palm and Hill avenues.
Quiroz-Carter, 35, is a longtime Watsonville resident who serves as an adjunct professor at Hartnell College. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from UC Berkeley and a master’s in communication from Cal State East Bay.
She ran unsuccessfully for the District 2 seat last November against Gonzalez, who endorsed her for the vacant seat in weeks leading up to the election.
She said Tuesday night that she was cautiously optimistic about the early results, and was awaiting the updated results that will be released on Dec. 14.
“The numbers are looking good and my team and I feel good about where we’re at. I’m incredibly thankful and proud of my campaign team who volunteered their time. I could not have done this without them. More than anything I’m feeling humbled and grateful to have received so much support,” she said.
Barba, 42, is the son of Mexican immigrants and a longtime resident of Watsonville who holds an associate degree from Cabrillo College and works for Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Support Services as a medical transport driver.
Both are relative newcomers to politics who have served on the Watsonville Parks and Recreation Commission.
Barba in an interview Wednesday said he thought Quiroz-Carter would likely win the election given Tuesday night’s results. Nonetheless, he said he was proud of his campaign and of the people who voted for him.
“I feel like I gave it my all, I knew it was going to be a low turnout … the voters are the ones that vote and I’m proud of the people that voted for me,” Barba said.
He did not rule out a future run for office but said he would refocus his efforts back to the Parks Commission and his work with Jacob’s Heart.
“I’m 100% committed to the people of Watsonville,” Barba said.
Quiroz-Carter has also been a part of the Santa Cruz County Women’s Commission and she is the vice-president of the board for nonprofit Families In Transition.
Because of Measure H, approved by Watsonville voters in 2014, the city had to hold a special election within 90 days after Gonzalez resigned on Sept. 14. Candidates had roughly a week to gather the signatures needed to put their names on the ballot.
The winner will serve on the City Council through 2024, finishing out Gonzalez’s four-year term.
Gonzalez was first voted into office in 2018 after Oscar Rios resigned amid sexual assault allegations.
Voter turnout for that election was also low. Gonzalez won by 27 votes with only 555 people submitting their ballot.
In contrast, some 1,741 voters sounded their voice when Gonzalez and Quiroz-Carter vied for the seat during last year’s polarizing presidential election.