Two South Pasadena City Councilmembers are up for re-election this November in a race that’s going to be decided for the first time ever by districts.

City Councilmember Diana Mahmud, District 5, and Michael A. Cacciotti, District 4, will be facing off within their own districts, according to city officials. Mahmud has already filed papers with the city clerk while Cacciotti intends to do so shortly.

Prior to this election, councilmembers were elected at-large, meaning every registered voter in South Pasadena could vote for whomever they chose. That changed with the threat of litigation last year.

The top vote getters would be installed as councilmembers. The term is for four years.

However, in June of last year, the city received a letter from the law firm of Shenkman & Hughes, alleging the city was in violation of the California Voting Rights Act because city councilmembers are elected at-large rather than by district. Dozens of local governments in California have faced similar legal challenges in recent years, according to the city’s website, www.ci.south-pasadena.ca.us.

On July 19, 2017, the South Pasadena City Council officially approved its intent to transition to district elections, taking advantage of a legal protection that enables cities to transition to district elections voluntarily and avoid costly litigation, according to city officials and the website. That protection requires a city council to adopt a Resolution of Intent within 45-days of receiving the letter alleging a CVRA violation. Upon adoption, the City Council is provided with an additional 90-days to conduct four public hearings prior to adopting an ordinance ordering the transition to district elections.

Instead of being voted on by registered voters throughout the city, which is about 16,017, the two incumbents will be elected by the registered voters only in their respective districts. For Mahmud in District 5 that’s 3,527 voters, while Cacciotti, the number is 2,831 registered voters in District 4. These numbers are as of July 16, according to So Pas Chief City Clerk Marc A. Donohue.

The exact boundaries for the districts are difficult to define because they are in an odd shape, according to Donohue.

“I would say that District 4 (Cacciotti) is east of Fair Oaks Avenue and north of a large portion of Monterey Road; District 5 (Mahmud) is south of a large portion of Monterey Road and east of Huntington Drive,” Donohue said in an email to The Review.

District elections will divide the city into geographic sections. Voters within each district will vote only for candidates residing within the same district. Voters will not vote for candidates outside of their own district, according to city officials.

The filing period is from Monday, July 16, to August 10, extended to Wednesday, August 15, if an incumbent fails to file. Since both incumbents are filing, there will be no need for an extension, city officials said. When a person pulls papers to file,  they have to get the required number of signatures, between 20 and 30 people from their districts, to then officially file their intent to seek the office.

The City Clerk and City Treasure are also up for re-election but those two are voted on an at-large basis, no boundaries. As of the press deadline, Eric Brady has filed papers to run against Cacciotti and Evelyn Zneimer has filed to run for city clerk, which is an elected part-time “ceremonial” position, according to Donohue. There were no other candidates on file with the City Clerk’s office as of July 17.

Brady and Zneimer were not immediately reachable for this article.

Mahmud did respond, saying she’s running for a second term because there is still much work to be done.

“I’ve learned a lot, have brought a lot to the position in my capacity as a retired energy, public works and contract lawyer, and met a lot of other elected officials and staff which is particularly important for a small city such as ours,” Mahmud said in an email to The Review Tuesday evening. “I’ve worked hard and earned important leadership positions in regional government committees and Boards.  It sure doesn’t feel like I’m retired.”

 Mahmud continued, “While the council has accomplished a lot during my term we have much more to do – I welcome the privilege and opportunity to continue to represent the residents of South Pasadena for another term.”

Mahmud, on the other hand, was elected to the City Council in November 2013. She is the eighth woman to serve on the City Council. With her election, two women simultaneously serve on the City Council for only the second time in the city’s history. The other woman is Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Marina Khubesrian.

On Dec. 16, 2015, Mahmud was elected to serve as mayor for the 2015-16 term.

Mahmud obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from UCLA, where she was elected undergraduate First Vice President. She obtained her Juris Doctor degree from UC Davis. Mahmud is retired from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), where she worked as a public works, contract and energy lawyer. Prior to that, she was employed by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, where she began her legal career as a criminal prosecutor. She later transferred to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, where she negotiated complex agreements and litigated large construction cases.

Mahmud and her husband Richard Helgeson have raised four children in South Pasadena—Joe, John, Marisa and Matt Helgeson.

Cacciotti, meanwhile, who was not available to comment for this story, was first elected to the City Council in 2001 and was re-elected in 2005 and then re-elected again in 2009 and 2013. He was chosen by his fellow Councilmembers to serve as mayor during the 2003-2004 and 2007-2008 mayoral terms. He most recently served as mayor for the 2011-2012, 2016-2017 term and as mayor pro tem for the 2015-16 term, according to the South Pasadena website.

Cacciotti also is a deputy attorney general with the California Department of Justice. Previously, he was a deputy state attorney with the California Department of Transportation, and prior to that he served as an attorney for the speaker pro tem of the California State Assembly. Cacciotti has taught high school in Miami, Florida, before becoming an attorney. He possesses a United States Soccer Federation National B license and has been active as a soccer coach at the youth, high school, and college levels for more than 30 years.

In early 2015, through Cacciotti’s initiative, Garfield Park became the first municipal park in the United States to be maintained entirely by gas free, electric commercial lawn equipment.

The general election is Nov. 6.

Steve Whitmore
Author

Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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