Local Election

Gray wins big, Atwater gets new mayor & a Merced race that’s still too close to call

Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, at work.
Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, at work. AP

Adam Gray cruised to victory Tuesday night, sweeping up nearly 70-percent of the vote in Merced County over libertarian challenger Justin Ryan Quigley. Gray, D-Merced, won his fourth term to the California Assembly for District 21. He first was elected in 2012.

Gray’s campaign manager, Mike Lynch, said Gray was “very happy” with the vote of confidence he received Tuesday.

“He’s going right back to work, getting up (Wednesday) at 6 a.m. to be in Sacramento for the Water Board hearing,” Lynch told the Sun-Star.

Lynch said Gray’s top priorities for Merced and the district “will continue to be” helping local residents get better access to medical services and fighting for water for farmers and the community.


A wild back-and-forth race saw Merced County Sheriff’s Sgt. Delray Shelton pull out in front of teacher John Bliss just before 10 p.m. Shelton, after trailing slightly early in the night. Shelton took a narrow lead, 50 percent to 49.79 percent. The candidates were separated by just five votes in the race for the District 6 seat.

Delray Shelton, a Merced County Sheriff’s sergeant, speaks at a youth-led forum in south Merced on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, where relations with law enforcement was a hot topic. Thaddeus Miller tmiller@mercedsunstar.com

Merced Mayor Mike Murphy sailed to re-election with nearly 72 percent of the returns over his opponent Monica Kay Villa, a homeless woman and advocate. Murphy ran on a campaign touting his first two years in the seat and his slogan “Merced — a city on the rise.”

Both candidates spoke during their campaigns about adding to the city’s public safety, issues around homelessness and improving downtown.

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John Bliss, a candidate for Merced City Council District 6, speaks during a debate Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018, at the Merced County Board of Realtors meeting in downtown Merced. Thaddeus Miller tmiller@mercedsunstar.com

Councilmember Kevin Blake, also a sheriff’s sergeant, declared victory late Tuesday with 53.36 percent of votes compared to 43.64 percent for challenger Karla Seijas, a UC Merced employee, in the race for District 4.

South Merced’s District 2 had candidate Fernando Echevarria, who moved from Atwater about three years ago, with 64.82 percent of the vote. About 34.46 percent of voters cast a write-in vote. The only qualified write-in candidate in the race was Ronnie De Anda, who was raised in Merced.


Atwater Mayor Jim Price remains behind in his bid for re-election against Councilmember Paul Creighton, with Creighton holding 67.04 percent of the vote to Price’s 32.52.

Councilmember Paul Creighton unseated Mayor Jim Price in a landslide victory, beating the one-term incumbent by about a two-to-one margin, 66.73 percent to Price’s 32.82 percent.

Hanging in the balance in Atwater is the employment of Police Chief Samuel Joseph, who was placed on leave back in January. Creighton supported the decision while Price did not. The two have also fallen on opposite sides in the hiring of City Attorney Doug White and City Manager Lori Waterman, both of which were supported by Creighton.

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Atwater Councilmember Paul Creighton speaks at a debate on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, at the Atwater Community Center. He is running for mayor. Thaddeus Miller tmiller@mercedsunstar.com

Atwater politics has been particularly nasty in the past two years with two sides of the divided council accusing each other of legal and ethical violations.

Councilmember Brian Raymond, who has voted along with Creighton on those high-profile decisions, won the night with 64.77 percent of the early vote against opponent Don Hyler III, who had 34.84 percent in the District 4 election.

District 3 candidates Danny Ambriz (47.19 percent) and Dan Hernandez (52.09 percent) were not separated by much. Hernandez has been openly critical of the Atwater city attorney and the decision to put Joseph on paid leave. Hernandez held a 27-vote lead with 100-percent of precincts reporting, according to the Merced County Elections Office.

Los Banos

Incumbent Mayor Mike Villalta won his fifth term in office with 69.56 percent over business owner Nilson Gomes Filho who had 29.59 percent.

Also on the council for several years, Councilman Tom Faria (61.76 percent) beat out Refugio Llamas (37.88 percent), who has lost the race to Faria before in District 2. District 3 candidate Brett Jones had an early lead with 58.1 percent compared to 41.8 percent for John Cates.


Three sitting councilmembers and a retiree are facing off for the mayor’s seat. Gurpal Samra (36.04 percent) had a significant lead over Alex McCabe (27.92 percent) and Juan Aguilar Jr. (28.05 percent). Retiree Mario Luera rounded out the race with 8 percent.

Hopefuls for one of the three seats were separated by few votes in a crowded ballot. The candidates: Gagandeep Kang had 16.36 percent; Raul Garcia had 15.73 percent; Garry Gurpreet Singh had 9.86 percent; Maria Baptista Soto had 14.78 percent; Jason Roth had 8.38 percent; Elias Jesus Maldonado III had 10.85 percent; Jay Abrams had 6.56 percent; and Mucio Vera Jr. had 7.68 and Roberto Godinez had 9.56.

Dos Palos

Incumbent Thomas Lee Pigg led the race with 35.93 percent of the vote for one of two open seats. Bookkeeper Deborah Orlando had 27.3 percent, community advocate Alice Thompson garnered 24.81 percent and retiree Kuldip Mahal tallied 11.78 percent.


Patrick Nagy, who has been on the council since 2008, took 65.32 percent of the vote while newcomer Zachary Ramos had 34.26 percent in the bid to be mayor.

There are two seats up for election in Gustine. Rich Ford, a business owner and former mayor, had 38.83 percent of the vote, followed by Derek Alexander and Lynn Schultz, each hovering around 30 percent.

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