LONG BEACH — For more than a decade, Eunice Sato has held sway over this city's 7th District as its City Council representative. The diminutive councilwoman has been a political giant at the polls, handily topping a parade of challengers in one election after another.
Sato credits a simple philosophy for her electoral success. "I just get the job done," she said recently, engulfed by a leather chair in her roomy 14th-floor office at City Hall. "I don't go around waving flags. I'm there to get the job done quietly."
Indeed, Sato is confident there are no "burning, unsettled issues" looming in her path as she seeks a fourth term in the April 8 primary election.
Not everyone, however, agrees.
Sato is being challenged by two candidates, sandwich shop owner Ray Grabinski and attorney William H. Burford, who contend that the 64-year-old councilwoman is out of touch with residents and has failed to deal effectively with such bread-and-butter issues as crime, blight in the district and environmental concerns.
"She's never been out in front on any one issue," charges Grabinski, 42. "She worries about herself before she worries about the district. That's not the way it should be. Sometimes you have to get a black eye, you get hurt. But you've always got to represent the district."
Face a Tough Battle
Despite such talk, both Grabinski and Burford acknowledge they face a tough battle to defeat Sato for the $12,600-a-year council post. The 4-foot, 10-inch councilwoman has a history of slaying foes who have more money and the political backing of Long Beach's traditional power brokers.
In her first bid for the council in 1975, Sato came out of a 21-candidate field to capture an easy victory, garnering twice as many votes as her closest rival. Since then, she has won reelection twice by wide margins during primaries. (If any one candidate fails to get more than 50% of the vote during the April primary, the two top vote-getters face off in June.)
To grab those victories, Sato has spent a grand total of $7,087 spread over three elections since 1975. Some of her past opponents have raised that much money in a single evening of fund raising.
This time, however, Sato is not taking any chances. According to the latest campaign disclosure documents, she had raised more than $24,000 and spent about $7,400 as of the end of February.
Grabinski had raised more than $12,000 and spent about $8,600. Disclosure forms indicate that Burford, 43, had raised less than $500, but the attorney said a recent fund-raiser netted more than $1,500, and he plans to spend up to $10,000, much of it money he will loan to his campaign.
While they trail in finances, the challengers have captured endorsements that could help to make up the difference. Grabinski, in particular, has gotten the backing of several influential groups, among them Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, a 580-member liberal community group, and the Long Beach Police Officers Assn. The two groups are able to deploy numerous campaign workers for candidates they support.
Endorsement Causes Stir
The Police Officers Assn. endorsement, besides being a coup for Grabinski, caused a stir in the Sato camp in late February, with the councilwoman accusing the police union of "trying to buy me off" by threatening to defeat her if she refused to support a union wage proposal. An association spokesman said the union did ask for Sato's support "in concept," but never requested that she back the specifics of the pay package now being negotiated with city management.
Despite such political hitches, Sato predicts that she will once again roll to victory in the district, which straddles the Los Angeles River from the San Diego Freeway to Hill Street.
She points to her campaign to start a Neighborhood Watch program throughout District 7 along with efforts to upgrade several blighted blocks along Santa Fe Avenue and revitalize crime-plagued Silvarado Park as proof that the job is getting done.
In addition, Sato has woked hard to keep individual constituents happy, attending innumerable neighborhood meetings and routinely putting in 40-hour work weeks at City Hall.
Sato has at times, however, earned the ire of her eight council colleagues, many of whom consider the councilwoman ineffective. During the 1982 election, six council members took the extraordinary step of opposing her reelection. Council members have been quiet this time and one, Mayor Ernie Kell, has contributed $190 to Sato's campaign.
Through it all, Sato has remained a force in District 7.
"I have responded to every concern to the extent that it is humanly possible," Sato said. "This area could have been down the drain if I didn't come along."
Problems Called Profound
But her opponents contend the district still has profound problems that Sato has failed to tackle aggressively.
Chief among them is crime. Windows covered by iron bars, gang graffiti and the proliferation of narcotics sales are all signs that not enough is being done, they say.