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Nonprofit development manager Gloria Soto — who currently leads the race for the 3rd District Santa Maria City Council seat — is anxious to get started with city business after a five-month-long campaign.

While election results will not be certified until early next month and there are still votes that remain to be counted, Soto is currently on track to win the race for the 3rd District seat on the Santa Maria City Council.

If certified the winner of the 3rd District council race, the 29-year-old Soto will be the youngest female ever elected to the City Council. Soto is less than half the age of the other council members, who are all at least in their 60s.

After being behind for most of election night, Soto pulled ahead at the end, garnering 1,032 votes for 47.32 percent — 44 votes more than her main challenger, incumbent Councilman Dr. Michael Moats. In the most recent tally of votes — which was released Friday — Soto has captured over 50 percent of the vote and remains ahead of Moats by 289 votes.

When she learned she took the lead on election night, Soto said, "I was just overwhelmed with happiness, excitement and this huge sense of being thankful for those who voted for us.”

A lifelong Santa Maria resident, Soto graduated from Pioneer Valley High School and Hancock College. She also earned a degree from Chapman University and currently works as a regional development manager at Planned Parenthood California Central Coast.

Soto, who campaigned on a platform that included expanding affordable housing and working to attract higher-paying jobs to the city, said she looks forward to the votes being certified and serving the citizens of Santa Maria.

“Not once did I think that I wasn’t going to win — that thought never crossed my mind,” Soto said. And the reason for that is that I know the work we did until the very end of the election. The weekend before the election, we contacted every single individual — which was over 900 people — who we had personally spoken to and who said they were going to vote for us. We went to their door one last time to remind them to vote — a lot of individuals had mail-in ballots that had not been mailed in so we were dropping off people’s ballots to the county office.”

On Tuesday morning, Soto campaign volunteers gave voters rides to the polls, she said. “Because of all that work, I knew we had to come in the lead.”

Soto said she’s proud of having run a campaign that was largely driven at the grassroots level. “We felt the need to door-knock, to phone bank and send get-out-the-vote text messages,” she said. “We did everything we could to reach the voters in District 3. Every weekend we had about 10 volunteers — sometimes they were the same one, sometimes they were different — that’d go and hit the streets. After Labor Day weekend, we were door-knocking every single day.”

Soto said she saw how effective door-to-door campaigning was to engage with city residents that felt left out of the decision-making process in local government. “There were times when people would say that they’ve never had a candidate before at their doorstep,” she said. “For me, I feel like this campaign had a twin mission. It wasn’t just to secure the votes needed to win but it was also to restore people’s faith in government. A lot of the times people didn’t believe their vote could make a difference.”

The conversations, Soto said helped her realize how important it was to make sure citizens are heard. “A lot of folks I spoke to lost faith in their government,” she said. “The only way we can restore people’s faith in government, the only way we can build that trust is by having open communication, full transparency and doing everything we can to make it easy for people to join in the conversation. A ton of voters I spoke to didn’t speak English. The first thing I’d like to see is for us to have interpretation services at our council meetings.”

Going forward, Soto hopes to continue to reach out to constituents. “Just because the election is over doesn’t mean we’re going to stop talking to our constituents. I want Santa Marians to stay connected, to stay engaged, ask questions and hold all of us accountable.”

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed

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