Ralph Anthony, a retired pastor and former school board member who led a scrappy, shoestring campaign and was outspent by his opponents by thousands was the apparent winner of the Bakersfield City School District’s Area Three trustee race Tuesday night.
Anthony captured almost 32 percent of the vote when all precincts were reported after 9:30 p.m. He was trailed by financial advisor Rupert Gregorio with about 25 percent; attorney Edgar Aguilasocho with 24 percent; and public school daycare manager Vicki Lynn Billington with 17 percent.
An excited Anthony said by phone that he was "praising God" as the first ballots were returned Tuesday evening. The last time he took an early lead — more than 25 years ago in 1992 — he won the race and served BCSD's board of trustees for two years. He was hoping for a repeat performance Tuesday, and he got it.
"I'm amazingly relieved and blessed and thankful," Anthony said at the end of the night. "This work takes a heart for children. It's above and beyond the politics. You've got to have the right heart and mind and the will."
The 77-year-old pastor led a scrappy, grassroots campaign. Unlike other well-funded candidates, he sent out no mailers and spent little money — less than $1,700, he said, for flyers and a few yard signs.
Meanwhile, Aguilasocho spent more than $10,000. Gregorio doled out more than $12,000 sending out three separate mailers.
Anthony attributed his early lead and support to his lifetime of community work.
"A lot of people don’t know, but I’ve been working with people all my life, and particularly in solving educational problems for people in Kern County," said Anthony, who most recently has been a member of BCSD's Closing the Achievement Gap Committee, which aims to close the gap between African-American students and their peers.
"We can do it. Nothing is impossible," Anthony said. "The work is just starting."
Aguilasocho, an attorney who represents the UFW Foundation, remained optimistic at a watch party held in the UFW offices downtown Tuesday evening, where spirits ran high as the first ballots were returned at 8 p.m.. Roughly 1,100 votes were counted at that time. Aguilasocho and his team said they expected more than 5,000 voters to turn out.
"We're still confident," Aguilasocho said at the time. "I think we're going to see a lot more votes."
But those votes never came. Just 1,230 people voted in the district, which has more than 15,000 registered voters.
Gregorio said he was glad just to be able to participate in the race, and that he built his campaign on helping disadvantaged kids with whom he said he can relate.
"Politics is unpredictable," Gregorio said at 8 p.m. "I hope that, if Mr. Anthony does win, he will do a great job getting our kids where they need to be."
The four candidates were vying to fill a seat left vacant since Trustee Raymond Gonzales — an educator who served as one of the first Latino assemblymen from the San Joaquin Valley in 1972. Gonzales, 78, announced his resignation from the board in May — five months after winning re-election last year.
He cited his deteriorating health as a concern. The board has left his seat vacant for nearly a year.
Once the votes are certified and Anthony is confirmed, he will help lead the state’s largest elementary school district during a time of growth and expansion, and represent Area 3, a swath of central Bakersfield buttressed between Highway 99 and Union Avenue north of Highway 58. It includes some of the district’s most challenging schools.