HAWTHORNE — On Nov. 25, council member Betty Ainsworth will vacate her seat to become this city's first woman mayor. How to replace her--and with whom--has become a leading item on the city's political agenda.
"Everybody is in his own little corner speculating on what is going to happen," City Treasurer Howard Wohlner said.
Wohlner, the city's senior political figure with 12 years in office, believes that the issue could revive the divisiveness that was a hallmark of politics in Hawthorne before the present council took office 2 1/2 years ago.
"There has been harmony, isn't that the word?" said Wohlner, who ran unopposed Nov. 5. "I would like to see it remain that way. The city is heading in the right direction. I don't want to see it have to deviate and get back into the old days when there was all this controversy and name calling, shouting at everybody."
The council has until Dec. 5 to appoint a replacement or call for a special election to be held within 90 days.
Three of the remaining four council members are maintaining publicly that they have not made up their minds.
"I'm not leaning any way," said reelected Councilman Chuck Bookhammer, who called for the public to speak its mind before the City Council on Nov. 25. Steve Andersen, who did not face reelection this month, said he has not made up his mind on the issue. "I don't really know," Andersen said. "I'm just kind of waiting."
David York, the other reelected incumbent, said he had not made up his mind but indicated that he was leaning toward a special election.
Only Ainsworth, who will retain a council vote as mayor, has been unequivocal about her position.
She said both before and after the Nov. 5 election that she would support the third-place finisher.
But City Clerk Patrick Keller said Bookhammer, York and Andersen have "have indicated for personality reasons they don't wish to appoint" Ginny McGinnis Lambert, a longtime critic of City Hall who came in third in the Nov. 5 election after a hard-hitting campaign for one of the two seats at stake.
Instead, they are leaning toward a special election, Keller said, citing as evidence "the fact they haven't announced they were going to appoint" anyone.
In 1983, Bookhammer, who finished third in a council election, was appointed to the council after Guy Hocker, elected mayor in the same election, vacated his seat.
Not in Favor of Lambert
A veteran observer of Hawthorne politics, who insisted on anonymity, agreed with Keller that the three councilmen do not favor appointing Lambert. "I'm sure that if the third-highest vote-getter was a different person, it would have been easier for the council to appoint," he said.
For her part, Lambert has adopted an uncharacteristically subdued attitude, pledging cooperation with council members and modifying campaign positions that attacked incumbents. She also denied reports from Keller, Andersen and Bookhammer that she or her supporters are circulating petitions urging the council to appoint her.
"I'm not doing anything right now," she said. "I am waiting . . . I obviously hope to be appointed."
Responding to criticism that she had alienated council members, Lambert said, "As a taxpayer and citizen of Hawthorne . . . from one side of the microphone . . . I have no other opportunity but to voice my opinion loudly when I have a complaint. When I am on the other side of the microphone, I have an opportunity to work with them. As a single voice out there, it is not easy to be heard."
If the council decides to stage a special election, Lambert, fifth-place council candidate Ray Pearcy and former councilman Larry Guyer have already said they are possible candidates.
Mayor Hocker, who did not run for reelection and leaves office Nov. 25, said he hopes the council will appoint Lambert to avoid a bitter special election that he predicted she would win.
"If this person is not appointed, she will become a martyr and she will become the darling of the community and she will win hands-down in an election which will not benefit the city at all because it could have been done so simply by appointing her," Hocker said.
On the other hand, the mayor said, if Lambert is appointed, she would feel that she had received what she deserved and arrive on the council in a less vengeful frame of mind than if, because of unyielding opponents on the council, she had to wage another campaign.
The mayor said sentiment was "widespread" to "appoint somebody and get on with the business of the community."
Two of the losing candidates in the council race, Dick Mansfield, who came in fourth, 38 votes behind Lambert, and Kathy Corsiglia, who came in last, announced last week that they supported appointing Lambert.
Corsiglia, addressing the City Council, said it would not be right to spend between $25,000 to $35,000 to hold a special election for a seat that pays $250 a month, and that the work of the council would suffer with an unfilled vacancy.