HAWTHORNE — In a move feared likely to plunge this city into no-holds-barred political combat, the City Council voted this week to fill a vacant seat by holding a special election April 8.
Announced candidates include the third-place finisher in the Nov. 5 council election--who says she should have been appointed to the vacancy--and a former councilman who was recalled in 1982 and then lost a comeback try a year later.
"My fears are that the election will open some old wounds and create some new ones," said City Treasurer Howard Wohlner, who with 12 years in office is the senior elected official in city government.
"As much as I would like to see a nice clean campaign, I am afraid that what is in store for us is a knock-down, drag-out, no-holds-barred fight."
The council vacancy was created when incumbent Councilwoman Betty J. Ainsworth was elected mayor Nov. 5 with two years remaining on her council term. In addition, a temporary vacancy on the council was created Nov. 29 when Councilman David M. York was shot in the stomach by a car thief. York is expected to attend the Dec. 23 council meeting.
The 3-0 decision this week to hold an election came after a month of petition-gathering and debate in which supporters of the third-place finisher, Ginny McGinnis Lambert, argued that she should be appointed and opponents maintained that a special election was the way to go.
Mark Young, son of a former Hawthorne police chief, the late Colman Young, and a frequent speaker at council meetings, presented the council with 1,700 signatures calling for a special election.
Lambert, who ran as a critic of City Hall, lost no time making it clear in an interview that she intends to run as much against the council members who denied her an appointment as against the candidates in the race.
"It was decided election night when they discovered who the front-runner was" among the losing candidates, a bitter Lambert said Tuesday.
In the council races for the two seats, the incumbents were easily reelected, Charles W. Bookhammer, with 1,653 votes, and York, with 1,650 votes, besting Lambert, who with 1,237, trailed by 413 votes. Lambert edged out Dick Mansfield, the fourth-place finisher, by 41 votes.
'Better Than Russia'
"The thing that is really bad now is that the seat is going to be vacant until April," Lambert said. "There are only three people on the council. It is poor judgment to let their personal feelings get in the way of conducting the business of the city. I just feel sorry for the people being manipulated like this. . . . They will listen if they want to, and if they don't want to, they don't have to. It is supposed to be democracy. I guess it is better than Russia."
Before the vote setting the special election, Councilman Steve Andersen said he was offended at suggestions that his personal feelings about Lambert influenced his decision. He said he favors a special election because it permits voters to decide who should represent them. Bookhammer agreed with one resident who said the right to vote was worth "life."
Ainsworth, who earlier said she would support whoever was the third-place finisher, said she had talked with York, who favored a special election, and was changing her position.
With the vacancy and York's absence, it takes unanimity among the three members on the five-seat council for most actions.
Lambert, 53, an executive assistant at Northrop Corp., said the special election was called to benefit Larry Guyer, the former councilman recalled in 1982. "I am just saying there is a special-interest group who wants to run a recalled councilman," she said.
Not Seen as Factors
Guyer, a quadriplegic who relies on disability payments, said he did not believe the 1982 recall or his unsuccessful attempt to run for mayor a year later will be factors in the election. "I just feel that the recall really has nothing to do with this race at all and neither does the mayor's race," he said.
Guyer and two other councilmen were recalled in November, 1982, after they voted to extend the terms of some council members without putting the measure on the ballot. The vote was taken near midnight in council chambers that were vacant except for officials.
A year later, a comeback effort failed when Guyer lost to Guy Hocker in the mayor's race. "At that time, it may have been too soon after the recall to run," he said.
Of the upcoming race, Guyer said, "My platform goes back to my record as a city councilman. You will find I had an excellent record."
Development a Concern
On current issues, he said he favors the commercial development under way in the city but is worried about the effect of intense residential development, particularly in the Moneta Gardens area.
"Maybe a moratorium for a short period of time would be a good thing to do," he said.