ARTESIA — Officially, three candidates are running for two council seats in the April 8 city election.
But the race has evolved into a bitter two-man fight that has all the makings of a mud-slinging contest.
Councilmen Dennis Fellows, 43, and James (Jim) Van Horne, 62, are running for reelection. Both are seeking fourth terms.
The lone challenger is Marcy Delgado, who rose from the rank of recreation supervisor to assistant city manager in Artesia in three years before he resigned in July, 1984.
Now Delgado, the personnel director of the Bellflower Unified School District, wants back in City Hall. And he makes no secret that he wants Van Horne's seat, accusing the incumbent of "lining the city's pockets at the expense of citizens."
Delgado's candidacy, according to Van Horne, is the only issue in the race. He said that Delgado, 27, is running at the urging of former city administrator Mayrant D. (Mac) McKeown, who resigned a week before Delgado left City Hall.
Targeted for Defeat
Van Horne believes McKeown wants to regain control of City Hall. He said McKeown has targeted him for defeat because Van Horn blocked an attempt by McKeown two years ago to manage the city as a private consultant.
The mayor at that time, Van Horne sided with councilmen Robert Jamison and Ron Oliver to reject a plan to turn over management of the city to McKeown's consulting business, Municipal Research Analysts.
Fellows and Councilwoman Gretchen Whitney voted for McKeown's proposal.
"McKeown would like nothing better than to see one of his boys in my chair," said Van Horne, a retired aerospace engineer who now works part time as a consultant for a South Pasadena government research firm. Because acting City Manager Harold Campbell's contract expires in April, Van Horne said he is worried that McKeown might push his management plan again.
"But McKeown won't get his way," predicted Van Horne, who called Delgado an "errand boy" for McKeown.
"Mac's tactics will boomerang," he said.
No Interest Expressed
McKeown, who lives in Long Beach, said he has no interest in returning to Artesia. "Even if it were offered, I'm not sure I'd take it," he said in a telephone interview.
When asked if he pushed Delgado to run for council, McKeown simply laughed and said: "That's Van Horne for you, a dreamer."
Delgado called Van Horn's theory of an impending McKeown takeover "preposterous."
Delgado said that the only contact he has had with McKeown in recent months was when his former boss called to wish him well on his run for the council.
Even if McKeown were considering a comeback in Artesia, Delgado said, "Somebody sure forgot to clue me in . . . "
Whitney, who is backing Delgado, agreed that McKeown does not want to return to Artesia. She said "the whole idea is farfetched. It will never happen."
Trying to Avoid Fray
Fellows, an accountant, has tried to avoid the fray by apparently distancing himself from both Van Horne and Delgado.
Four years ago, Fellows and Van Horne paired up to run as a slate, sending out slick fliers listing their qualifications and accomplishments. But this year Fellows is running alone, a move he said was prompted more by his busy personal and professional schedules than any attempt to divorce himself from Van Horne.
When asked about Delgado, Fellows simply said, "I am quite confident I can work well with either gentleman."
Much of the animosity between Van Horne and Delgado is rooted in McKeown's final days as city administrator.
After 12 years at the helm of City Hall, McKeown wanted to retire from his Artesia post in the spring of 1984 to run his consulting business. As one of his final acts, McKeown tried to persuade the council to hire his firm to run the city, which he claimed would save taxpayers more than $40,000 a year in salary and other costs.
The cost to the city was to be $4,500 a month, and McKeown would have received use of a city car and city medical coverage.
"If Delgado wins," Van Horne warned, "McKeown would have two votes on the council--Delgado and Whitney. At that point anything could happen, provided they landed a third vote."
Expects to Spend Little
Despite voting for McKeown's management plan two years ago, Fellows said he is beholden to no one, least of all McKeown, who lives in Long Beach. Fellows, a city resident since 1972, said he is running for a fourth term after "dozens of friends and neighbors" encouraged him to stay on the council. He said he expects to spend very little on his reelection bid.
Artesia council members receive a $300 stipend and $150 car allowance every month.
Because Artesia--a 1.6-square-mile island surrounded on three sides by Cerritos and on the north Norwalk--is fully developed, Fellows said the council's role has become that of "maintenance manager," making sure the budget is balanced, the streets are clean and complaints are answered.
Like Van Horne, Fellows does accept some blame for the city's financial troubles two years ago.