LONG BEACH — After a lengthy winnowing process, prominent businessman George Talin has emerged from a pack of Harbor Commission candidates and is the odds-on favorite for appointment to the prestigious commission in two weeks.
The selection of Talin, 56, a wealthy tire dealer and bank director, as one of five commissioners of the semiautonomous Port of Long Beach would end lobbying of City Council members that began at least two years ago and has been waged in earnest for the last 90 days.
Mayor Ernie Kell, who must submit a nomination for council approval, has refused to back a candidate publicly, waiting instead to see who could gain the votes of a council majority. That apparently is Talin, whom at least five of nine council members will support, they said in recent interviews.
Recalling past political battles over appointments to the Harbor Commission, Kell said of his silence about the nomination: "I don't want to embarrass anyone. There are going to be some winners and some losers, and I want to cushion some losers as much as possible.
"Plus, I like to see how these potential harbor commissioners act when they get under pressure, trying to get their votes lined up," added Kell.
Despite Kell's efforts to keep political spats behind the scenes, this campaign has revived old feuds, may have cost Councilman Edd Tuttle a close friend, and raised again the question of whether the appointed Harbor Commission is too independent from the elected City Council.
It has also prompted a call by councilmen Tuttle and Warren Harwood for more disclosure of financial interests by harbor commissioners, and it has sparked renewed interest by some council members in an ordinance that would prohibit harbor commissioners from soliciting political contributions from port businesses. (See accompanying story.)
These disputes have arisen partly because of the nature of the Harbor Commission, which handles a $150-million annual budget, almost equal to the discretionary funds managed by the City Council, and because people of prestige and political power have traditionally received one or more of the six-year commission appointments.
That tradition goes back to the 1920s and '30s when shipbuilders and oil men ran the harbor, and continues today, with millionaire builder Robert Langslet, Harbor Bank president James Gray and prominent corporate attorneys Richard Wilson and Louise DuVall as commissioners. Wilson, Gray and Langslet, all Republicans, are also major political fund-raisers. Only low-profile small businessman David Hauser, appointed in 1983 with Harwood's strong backing, does not fit that mold.
Front-running candidate Talin, a former corporate client of lawyer Wilson and a political supporter of most of the City Council, is of the traditional commissioner stripe--influential in both community and political affairs. Like the retiring Wilson, whom he would replace, Talin is a Republican who has supported both Democrats and Republicans.
Since coming to Long Beach in 1967, he has built Talin Tire Inc. into a 13-outlet, 200-employee regional tire service-and-sales business. Like Wilson, Gray, Langslet and DuVall, he has held leadership positions in numerous local charitable and civic groups.
Five council members--Tuttle, James Wilson, Wallace Edgerton, Tom Clark and Jan Hall--said in interviews that they would vote for Talin along with Kell if the mayor nominates him. Eunice Sato and Marc Wilder also are expected to support Talin, their colleagues said.
But Talin, a baseball fan, paraphrased Yogi Berra in saying Wednesday, "The game isn't over until it's over.
"But I have spoken with every single council person over the last several years," he added "and I hope they have developed a level of comfort with me . . . (so) the votes will be positive."
Kell would not say who he will nominate, but he did say that Talin is an excellent candidate. Kell is known to have favored Westside businessman Joel Friedland, his colleagues said. But Friedland, twice an unsuccessful candidate for James Wilson's 6th District seat, was supported only by Harwood and Edgerton and would not have been confirmed, said several council members.
"I will not put a name on the floor that will fail," said Kell. "It serves no purpose."
Friedland's attempts in 1980 and 1984 to unseat Jim Wilson may have made him appear too political to be appointed to the commission, said Kell. "It hurt him with some council support," the mayor said.
Friedland had counted on the support of Tuttle, an old friend and political ally, and was bitter when Tuttle told him he'd pledged his support to Talin in 1983, the councilman said.
"Joel is one of my closest personal friends," said Tuttle, "but I'd already made a commitment. The same thing happened in 1983 when (IDM founder) Mike Choppin, my single largest campaign contributor said, 'Hey, I want the Harbor Commission seat,' and I couldn't give it to him.