LONG BEACH — Ray Grabinski knocked on one Wrigley District door after another last week, celebrating an anniversary of sorts.
Voter registration lists in hand, Grabinski, 41, was marking his sixth month on the stump for the District 7 seat now held by veteran City Councilwoman Eunice Sato.
Dressed in gray slacks and blue blazer and armed with pamphlets and "Grabinski" giveaway sponges, he has campaigned most nights and weekends since April. And the city's primary election is still six months away.
"I want to meet every voter in the district . . . . by next April," said Grabinski, the short, stocky owner of a Bixby Knolls delicatessen who is making his first run for office.
Grabinski's presence on westside doorsteps--along with lucrative fund-raisers by other candidates, a new campaign for a full-time mayor, and District 1 Councilman Marc Wilder's announcement that he will not seek a third term--have ushered in a new political season here.
Already, races for four of the five council seats available next spring have begun to take shape.
Only Mayor Ernie Kell, who represents the 5th District and received nearly 80% of its votes four years ago, is not likely to be opposed. Even so, he hosted a $150-a-plate campaign dinner a week ago on the Queen Mary, and guests said perhaps 300 people attended.
The primary election will be April 8, with the final balloting June 3.
In District 7, Grabinski, a leader in California Heights and Wrigley area neighborhood groups for several years, is using the shoe-leather strategy increasingly popular with underdog council candidates in Long Beach.
He points to maverick Councilman Warren Harwood's overwhelming defeat of 13-year 9th District incumbent Russ Rubley in 1982 as evidence that months of walking districts can work.
Sato, however, has been a hard-working, virtually full-time council member since 1975, who handily defeated current Planning Commission Chairman Richard Gaylord in 1982 even though his campaign was nearly three times as costly as hers. The 64-year-old former schoolteacher said she's not worried about Grabinski.
"It'll be a race, I guess," she said. "I know he's trying to take credit for things he hasn't done. He says he's responsible for the oil pipeline ordinance and the (city) staff developed that."
Grabinski said that in the wake of the frightening Gale Avenue pipeline break and fire in 1981, he worked hard to get the city to adopt a pipeline safety law that remains a model nationwide. He has also led a successful effort to keep a toxic waste plant out of Wrigley Heights and initiated a city hazardous waste law that established a 2,000-foot buffer between waste facilities and homes, he said.
"(Sato) is effective in her own way," said Grabinski. "She's hard-working and she attends a lot of meetings. But a council member has to be a catalyst, not just someone counted on the roll. She waits until the decision is almost made by circumstance or other council people, then she votes."
Sato said Grabinski has conjured up his own version of past events and misrepresented her actions. "I vote for fairness and justice," she said, "I have to do what's right even if it's against another council person."
The campaign in District 3 promises to be a repeat of the free-swinging $100,000 race between Councilwoman Jan Hall and dentist James Serles in 1982. Hall has already raised about $32,000, while Serles, who lost by 387 votes out of 7,700 cast last time, said he is lining up pledges and will spend what it takes.
Resurrecting the issues of 1982, Serles, 44, said he would focus on traffic and crime problems in the city's affluent southeast, and what he sees as Hall's lack of business experience.
"In me (voters) are getting someone with a solid business background," he said. "She sits as a member of a council with a $1-billion budget, and she has never to my knowledge been employed or had to make a payroll or sign a paycheck."
Hall, 42, a housewife and a community activist before election to the council in 1978, said she worked professionally in 1969-72 for a public opinion firm and is a partner in the insurance business her husband runs. She also has had much experience with business as a leader in government, she said.
Crime is down sharply in her district since 1981, she added. And she said she has fought her district's traffic battles for 15 years, including leadership in a campaign against an east-west freeway in the early 1970s.
Her qualifications and support, she maintained, are even stronger than four years ago.
In District 9 in North Long Beach, Harwood's seat appears secure for now, even though 1982 also-ran Norm Kermode, 70, and Jay Cain, who headed a failed campaign to recall Harwood last year, have said they may oppose him this time.