TORRANCE — Challenger Dee Hardison surprised even herself when she garnered the most votes of the eight candidates, including two incumbents, who were running for three City Council seats in Tuesday's municipal election.
"Yes, I'm surprised," she said of the 6,201 votes she collected, 173 more than incumbent Councilman Mark Wirth. The other incumbent, Councilman Bill Applegate, received 5,575 to finish third.
"Usually the incumbents have an edge," said Hardison, who was the front-running challenger prior to the election. "I'm not sure why I got the most votes. I just went out and knocked on doors and listened to people. I guess they felt I would be just as concerned about the things they were."
In mailers and in candidate forums, Hardison stressed that she opposed dense development and is concerned with maintaining open space for parks. Like the other seven candidates, she said she wants to maintain the quality of life in Torrance.
Don Lee, a 29-year-old insurance agent who was expected to be a strong challenger, finished a distant fourth with 3,237 votes. A.J. (Tony) Kriss garnered 1,885 votes, Eva (Eve) I. Bisou received 1,669 votes, J.D. (Dick) Cahill 1,288 and Carl Kludt 939.
In the only other contested race, incumbent City Treasurer Thomas C. Rupert was reelected to a sixth term, defeating challenger Pauline Greer 6,607 to 2,600.
In uncontested races, Councilwoman Katy Geissert was elected the city's first woman mayor, and former Councilman Donald E. Wilson was elected City Clerk.
Hardison, a special education teacher at Calle Mayor Middle School and a Planning Commissioner, had been endorsed by all five board members of the Torrance Unified School District and by four of the seven City Council members, including Geissert and outgoing Mayor Jim Armstrong.
Some election observers said Hardison's similarity to the popular Geissert in her background in civic affairs, and Geissert's support--including a $1,000 contribution from her campaign committee--were decisive factors in Hardison's victory. But Hardison said she will not be a Geissert clone.
"I have followed a similar pattern as Katy, but it does not mean that we agree on everything," said Hardison, 47, who like Geissert has been active in the PTA, has served on the Parks and Recreation Commission and has been involved in homeowner issues. Hardison is a former president of the Southeast Homeowners Assn.
"Even some of the votes I have made on the Planning Commission, when they went before the City Council, Katy has voted differently," Hardison said. "We are two independent women."
Still, the addition of Hardison to the City Council is expected to further strengthen the council's slow-growth attitude toward development. The City Council has in the past rejected developments thought to be too dense or that would produce excessive traffic.
Neither Geissert nor Hardison place any special significance on being the first two women to sit on the City Council concurrently, saying that if the right woman candidate had run previously, she would have been elected.
Wirth, 35, said that in his second term he will continue to work to prevent overdevelopment and to reduce traffic congestion.
Applegate, 42, who will start his third term on the council, said he was only slightly disappointed that he finished third. However, he said that the low 14% voter turnout indicates that residents approve the direction the city is heading.
"If there were people unhappy, you would have seen them out in droves to vote," he said.