BY ALICIA ROBINSON
STAFF WRITER
arobinson@pe.com

Published: 25 May 2012 07:15 PM

Riverside’s mayoral election will enter a brave new world on June 5, the first time in at least half a century that it has been held along with a presidential election.

The high visibility of the presidential race and the first election with new state and federal legislative district boundaries are expected to bring more voters out for the mayor’s race, which has often seen low turnout when held in odd years.

Seven candidates are running for mayor: former councilman Ed Adkison, Councilman William “Rusty” Bailey, nonprofit CEO Peter Benavidez, community volunteer Aurora Chavez, Councilman Mike Gardner, Councilman Andy Melendrez and teacher Dvonne Pitruzzello.

Riverside’s November 2005 mayoral election drew a little more than 45 percent of city voters. Four years later, participation fell to nearly 19 percent, statistics from the Riverside County Registrar of Voters show.

“This is the first time that this race is consolidated with the presidential primary and all those congressional and state assembly races, so we should see an uptick (in turnout),” said Joan Donahue, president of Riverside’s League of Women Voters.

A change voters made to the city charter in 2006 moved mayoral elections to presidential years starting this year. At the time, city officials said the switch would give all council members the opportunity to run for mayor without having to give up their council seat. Previously the mayor’s race was on the same ballot as council elections for wards 2, 4 and 6.

With Riverside’s usual odd-year elections, “There are a lot of people who don’t even know that an election is going on,” Donahue said.

Observers say that’s not the case this year. The redrawing of assembly and congressional district boundaries has shaken up those races and gotten voters’ attention, said Wendel Tucker, president of the Raincross Group, a civic organization that held a mayoral candidates forum last month.

Mayor Ron Loveridge said past mayoral elections have averaged 20 to 30 percent turnout, and he predicts as much as 35 percent on June 5. It’s the first time since Loveridge became mayor in 1994 that he won’t be on the ballot for that office, but Donahue said she hasn’t heard enough excitement about the race to assume it’s generating much attention on its own.

One potential wild card is participation by the city’s Latino voters.

Census data show Latinos make up 49 percent of city residents and there have been recent pushes to get that community politically engaged, but “the voter registration statistics are dismal,” said Francisco Sola, Riverside coordinator for the Latino Voter Registration Education Project.

“We are not a voting power base yet,” he said.

Sola said traditional campaign methods don’t always reach Latino voters because they don’t fit the mold of the “traditional voter,” which he described as being white, a homeowner and having a high level of education.

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