Joe E. Collins Jr., who had hoped to challenge 15th-District incumbent Joan Milke Flores in the April 9 Los Angeles City Council elections, might have qualified for the ballot if the city elections office had been on the first floor of City Hall.
But when the noon filing deadline passed Feb. 2, Collins came up an instant late and, according to election officials, a floor short.
"If we were on the first floor, it's quite possible he would have made it," said Esperanza De La Cerda, secretary to city elections supervisor Joe Giles. "But we're 23 floors up and the elevator only comes to the 22nd. You've got to get off and take a flight of stairs. You've got to allow time . . . for the elevator."
Collins, who signed in at 11:56 a.m. at the first-floor security-guard station, claims that he had just reached the elections office--a moment before noon--when he found the door to his political future closed. But unless he can prove he arrived on time, Collins will have to run his campaign against the first-term incumbent as a write-in candidate.
Flores has no other challengers in her district, which extends from Watts through Wilmington and the Los Angeles Harbor area.
"It was frustration," the 20-year-old Collins said. "I was just disconboomerated(. That shot the whole day."
Collins, a computer operator at City National Bank in Los Angeles, met a Jan. 14 deadline to file a declaration of his intention to run. He said he had collected more than the required 500 signatures on his candidacy petition, but spent part of the morning Feb. 2 trying to add to the total--"just to make sure." He had also raised $500 for the candidate's filing fee, he said.
Collins refused to disclose whether he plans an appeal, but said he will continue his campaign "one way or another," possibly as a write-in candidate. He said he fought unusually heavy Saturday morning traffic to reach City Hall, then was stopped before entering the elevator by a guard who made him sign in. The elevator then went to the 22nd floor without stopping, he said.
"If I had not had to sign in, I would have been in the room," Collins said.
Sylvia Cunliffe, head of the city's General Services Department, which monitors the sign-in sheets and elevator operations, said Collins' name is barely legible on the sign-in roster--as though written in a "real hurry. I can read a 'Joe,' then what looks like an 'E,' then 'Coll'--and then it sort of dies off," she said.
Once Collins was on the elevator, she said, the trip to the top should have taken no more than a minute.
Collins said he heard a city clock toll the hour as he stood outside the locked election-office door. But election officials do not go by clocks inside or outside the building, which may be fast or slow, De La Cerda said. Instead, election officials call for the official time by telephone, she said.
"When (it) said, 'The time is now 12 o'clock,' the key turned," she said. "When the door closed . . . there was no one" outside.