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Incorporation was decided by less than 500 Lathrop voters
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LATHROP – June 6, 1989 in Lathrop was a red-letter day for this small town along the San Joaquin River.

That was the day residents went to the polls to decide the future of their town: whether it should remain as an unincorporated territory of San Joaquin County or become an incorporated city.

Cityhood reigned that day with 81.6 percent of the voters who cast their ballots saying a resounding yes to incorporation.

But while the incorporation special election was an impressive milestone, the numbers were quite lackluster.

•Out of the 2,198 registered Lathrop voters, only 981 voted which translates to a 44.6 voter turnout.

•When the votes were counted, 783 of the voters said yes to incorporation, or 81.6 percent of the votes.

•The number of votes cast against incorporation was 177 or 18.4 percent of those who voted.

At the same special election, the residents also had to choose the five people to serve on the first City Council. The numbers in this part of the election were also impressive, producing the largest roster of names in a council election that has not been duplicated to date. There were 19 candidates who vied for the five council positions.

When all the votes were cast and counted, at the top of the heap was Steven McKee, a lifelong farmer who grew up the family’s farm situated between Interstate 5 and the San Joaquin River. His family home and barn were the first structures that greeted visitors who ventured to the western edge of West Louise Avenue where it dead-ended.

The 19 candidates and the number of votes they received (the top five finishers made up the first city council) are as follows: Steven McKee, 574 votes (elected); Apolinar N. Sangalang, 413 (elected); Mac Freeman, 378 (elected); Darlene Hill, 345 (elected); Bennie Gatto, 304 (elected); Nellie Zavala, 276, Jerry G. Lum, 254; Bruce Mike  Gallegos, 241; Raul Ramirez, 233; Beverly Kennedy, 178; Pete N. Villanueva, 178; Alfred H. Alexander, 149; Delores Castro, 144; William Phillips III, 101; Donald P. Smith, 99; Ignacio H. Segura, 97; Phillip Menchaca, 88; Felino R. Arellano Jr., 71; and Mary V. De Leon, 52.

As the man who finished at the top of the heap, McKee was appointed by the new council members as the first mayor of the fledgling incorporated city.

The bottom three who were elected to serve on the first council were to serve for two years while the rest had four-year tenures to make sure the members do not go out of office all at one time. Gatto, Freeman and Hill all decided to run for a second term and all won. Kennedy, who sought another chance to serve on the council, and political newcomer Robert Gleason did not make the grade. Gleason, in subsequent years, made another try and finally got elected.

That second election on Nov. 3, 1992 produced the largest percentage of voters who came out to vote in the city’s 20-year history. Out of the 3,094 registered voters in the city at that time, a total of 2,111 voters went to the polls which signified a 68.2 percent voter turnout. The fact that it was a general municipal election may have played a part in the impressive numbers seen at the polls that election year.

For the next six years after incorporation, Lathrop’s mayor was by appointment. All of the five people who served on the first city council were appointed as mayor by the council, with several of them serving in that capacity more than once. That all ended when voters decided in the November 1994 elections that the city’s mayor should be elected. Measure D, or the Mayor by Voter Election, won by a resounding 94.4 percent of the votes cast, or a total of 1,579 votes. Only 94 voters were opposed. The voter turnout in that election was 53.6 percent which meant 1,911 of the 3,562 registered voters in the city went out to vote.

McKee went on to win three mayoral elections, the last two of them uncontested. In the first mayoral election, he was challenged by political newcomer Jose D. Hernandez. At the end of 2002, and after serving five times as Lathrop mayor – two by council appointment and three by election – McKee announced he was retiring from politics, ending more than 12 years in public office. His niece, current Lathrop mayor Kristy Sayles, would need to win three more elections to tie her uncle’s record.