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Also-Rans Make Mayoral Contest a Horse Race

February 22, 1986|BARRY M. HORSTMAN | Times Staff Writer

"I'm not your average homogenized candidate," Loch David Crane said at one recent mayoral candidates' forum. After Crane proceeded to quote Mr. Spock of "Star Trek" fame, call for the preservation of the Mission Beach Giant Dipper roller coaster "as a symbol of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," and, finally, set off a puff of flash powder in his hand, no one in the audience disputed his point.

Candidate John Kelley, meanwhile, passed out free Bibles while saying, "You'll get more truth out of this . . . than a whole stack of campaign leaflets." Minutes later, Vernon Watts Jr., an unemployed carpenter who wants to get back in the job force as mayor, introduced himself to the crowd as "one of those crazy guys you see hanging off the side of a building yelling at women."

And Rose Lynne, the City Hall gadfly now in her third--and, she says, last--campaign for mayor, told anyone who would listen to her: "Please don't vote for me."

Welcome to the unusual, often humorous, never boring world of the 10 long shots in Tuesday's mayoral primary--an amalgam of well-intentioned if often offbeat political alternatives and sheer comic relief that can be viewed either as democracy in its rawest form or simply as a traveling political sideshow.

Their styles and campaign platforms are nothing if not colorful, and, to put it diplomatically, unorthodox. One candidate is a former horse racing jockeys' agent who wants to jump in the saddle at City Hall but, after getting kicked out of the building several times recently, is having trouble getting out of the starting gate. Another is convinced that the Saudis would love to finance construction of a monorail in San Diego. One wants to build a floating tuna museum, while another, angered over not being invited to a candidates' forum in Normal Heights, recently compared the organizers of the meeting to Nazis.

While the three major candidates in the race--Councilman Bill Cleator, former Councilman Floyd Morrow and former Councilwoman Maureen O'Connor--appear in newspapers and on television almost daily, either in news stories or via paid advertising, the 10 long shots labor in relative obscurity with, in most cases, little money and few volunteers.

Perhaps the most telling demonstration of the frustrations faced by the long shots was experienced by candidate Mary Christian-Heising, who received calls from both the Cleator and O'Connor campaigns asking for her support.

"I let them make their little pitch before I told them I was a competitor," she said. "It actually was pretty funny, I guess."

Not invited to many candidate forums because, their protestations notwithstanding, they are not regarded as serious candidates, the long shots' comments at the meetings to which they can wrangle invitations attract snickers and confused stares more often than applause. Two write-in candidates, Gladwin Salway and Armand Benjamin Jr., also are competing in the race.

In their more candid moments, the lesser-known candidates will concede, as Kelley did at the Normal Heights forum, that, "The only way I can get elected mayor is if (the three major candidates) simultaneously drop dead. I don't think it's going to happen. They look too healthy."

More often, however, they concur with environmental designer Robert McCullough's explanation of what motivates people to run in a race--and, more importantly, spend $500 to get their name on the ballot--in a race that all logic seems to dictate they cannot win.

"I'm looking for a political miracle," McCullough said. "Upsets happen all the time in politics, and this is going to be one of the biggest. I think the people are looking for a change, something totally different from what they've been getting at City Hall."

"We have something to contribute to the dialogue of the campaign," added Warren Nielsen, now in his second consecutive mayoral race after receiving about 4,300 votes, or 2% of the total, in 1984. "Our ideas can have an impact on the race."

Most political observers, however, argue that the long shots' likely impact on Tuesday's election, if any, is limited to the possibility that the votes they receive could deny one of the three leading candidates a majority vote. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the primary, the top two will compete in a June 3 runoff.

Although they are diverse in their personal backgrounds and political philosophies, the 10 share one common lament: They could win, or at least be taken seriously, if only the news media and public would pay more attention to them.

"How much money you have, instead of what you say, determines if you're called a major or minor candidate," Kelley complained. "Heck, I could be a major candidate, too, if I did what Dick Carlson did and married a soup heiress." Carlson, whose wife is an heiress to the Swanson frozen food fortune, spent $498,000 of his own money in his 1984 loss to former Mayor Roger Hedgecock.

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