Low Turnout Shocks Candidates : Incumbents Reelected to L. B. School Boards

March 21, 1985|MARIA L. La GANGA | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — It was incumbents' night at the ballot box Tuesday, as voters here returned Elizabeth Wallace and James Zarifes to their school board seats and Ruth Todd and Donald H. Scott to their positions on the community college board.

The four longtime trustees all won by substantial margins in what one candidate said was the worst voter turnout in at least 20 years. Only 8.7% of the estimated 219,000 registered voters went to the polls.

But for Long Beach, it was simply history repeating itself. No incumbent has ever lost an election in the Long Beach Unified School District's 100 years. And voter turnout for schools-only elections has not topped 18% in the 18 years that Scott--a longtime officeholder and school-politics watcher--has kept records.

Top Vote-Getter

Wallace was the school board's top vote-getter, with 7,655 votes, or 22.7% of the ballots cast.

To Zarifes, who captured 6,974 votes, or 20.5%, the low turnout was perhaps a sign of contentment in the district.

"This indicates that they (the voters) are either not interested in the schools, or it's a vote of confidence in the school board and the level of education here," he said. "I have to attribute this to general satisfaction in the district and the fact that there are no controversial issues."

But Ben Lipson--a retired teacher who came in a distant third with 6,258 votes, or 18.4%--called the low turnout a crime.

"I'm really shocked at the poor voter turnout," Lipson said. "It's really kind of pathetic that 7,655 votes (Wallace's share) is all you need to win an election in a district with so many voters."

Ramon Cruz--a college administrator who was considered the best challenger--came in fourth with 5,859 votes, or 17.2%.

Other Candidates

Joseph T. Brooks, a retired federal worker and past president of the Long Beach National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People--won 2,293 votes, or 6.7%. Keith A. Grimes, a precious metals dealer, came in sixth with 1,476 votes, or 4.3%, and Cherre McKnight was a close seventh with 1,465 votes, also 4.3%. Jean Linden, a housewife and one of the least visible candidates, received 1,079 votes, or 3.2%, and Kenneth R. Swain, who withdrew from the race last Friday, received 868 votes, or 2.6%.

Like the other candidates, Wallace said she was astounded by the low voter turnout. And although she won by 763 votes--a 4% margin of victory--"I had no feeling of early victory," she said.

"I thought it was a toss-up the whole night," Wallace said Tuesday night. "And I don't think it's a mandate at all, even though I think we have the confidence of the people."

Cruz campaigned long and hard for the school board seat, with late-campaign mailers and a message on his telephone machine that told callers: "This is the Cruz residence . . . After you vote for Ramon Cruz for school board, please join the Citizens for Ramon Cruz at 920 Palo Verde next to Cal State Long Beach . . . Please call your friends and neighbors and remind them to vote."

Distant Fourth

But nothing seemed to help. From the first absentee votes counted at 8:30 p.m. through to the final votes that arrived by boat from Santa Catalina Island after midnight, Cruz ran a distant fourth. He could not be reached for comment.

Lipson, however, said that he was pleased with his campaign, which started out with just himself and his wife.

"I'm pleased with my showing, because I started so far back," Lipson said. "But I didn't want to beat Cruz. I wanted to beat Zarifes and Wallace."

The Long Beach Unified School District has 62,000 students, 79 schools and covers 130 square miles. It includes all of Long Beach, Signal Hill and Avalon and 60% of Lakewood.

Incumbent Todd captured 11,173 votes, 37% of the ballots cast in the Long Beach Community College board race, followed closely by Scott, who received 35.6% of the vote, with 11,650 ballots.

Both campaigned very little; their opponents admitted mid-race that they had no chance and were just trying to increase their name recognition for future election efforts.

"I didn't do any (precinct) walking," Scott said. "I never do. I didn't do any telephoning. I haven't ever really done that, either. And what did I do this weekend? I went to lunch and took Saturday off. And I didn't do anything Sunday that I can remember, either."

Todd said she had an equally quiet pre-election weekend, and spent election night having a quiet dinner at home.

'Very Pleased'

"I'm very pleased," Todd said. "But from what all I had heard, the others aren't very well known. I didn't even meet Mr. Aguilar."

The two challengers were Clifford B. Aguilar, who got 4,469 votes, and Gary L. Goodenough, who received 4,136 votes.

Nowhere in the district was the dearth of voters more evident than at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School--the polling place for four Lakewood precincts.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, voting supervisor Luanne Herrera was confident that at least 300 of the possible 1,942 voters who live in the area would show up. By 1 p.m., she was becoming dubious.

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