LONG BEACH — Incumbent Marc Wilder's decision to forgo a possible third term has lured a remarkable assortment of candidates--some might be called characters--to the District 1 race for City Council.
In all, 14 candidates are seeking the $12,600-a-year downtown-area seat that Wilder has held since 1978 but is now relinquishing so he can earn a better living.
The office-seekers are as diverse as their district of gleaming office towers, immigrant tenements, crowded schools and senior citizen apartment buildings.
The field includes two attorneys and an engineer; two legislative aides, a probate referee and a property appraiser; a self-employed anthropologist, a maker of chicken pies, and a supplier of bumper stickers who lives with exotic birds and flies a giant American flag.
Candidates range in age from 28 to 73. The youngest, Jenny Oropeza, a former California State University, Long Beach, student body president, notes that Wilder was only 29 when first elected. The two oldest--Paul W. Diefenbach Sr., 73, and Frank B. Hudzik, 69--are retired but hope to remain active in community service. "I don't want to just sit around and watch TV," Hudzik explained.
If either Oropeza or Mary Alice Romero is victorious, then the council would have its first Latino member. In 1980, Latinos constituted about 20% of downtown residents, and city officials say that percentage has increased.
Without Wilder in the race, three candidates are running as if they were the incumbent, and a fourth, John Carl Brogdon, is citing previous experience on the Culver City council as a job qualification.
Joy Melton, a full-time aide to Wilder for the past three years, said she has spent that time helping to solve the district's most pressing problems, attending no fewer than 300 Neighborhood Watch meetings. Don Phillips, a two-term councilman defeated by Wilder eight years ago, said he worked well with a majority of the current council as it was getting the downtown's $1.3-billion economic redevelopment off the ground in the 1970s.
And Evan Anderson Braude, the stepson of longtime Long Beach Rep. Glenn M. Anderson (D-Harbor City), has received financial backing from a virtual who's-who of local business and politics--a perquisite often reserved for incumbents who have performed well. Braude, who cites his parentage often and without apology, said he knows a majority of the council and, as a result, would be immediately effective at City Hall.
Braude's campaign expenditures will reach $25,000 by the April 8 primary election, he said. Another attorney, Ron Batson, also said he will spend about $25,000 by election day, two thirds of it his own money. And Melton figures to spend about $20,000. Eight candidates have reported little or no campaign expenses.
Several are focusing heavily on a single issue or theme.
Thomas (Ski) Demski, whose talkative green parrot, Mike, is his campaign manager, is continuing a two-year campaign to force the city to repaint its crosswalks. Roosevelt (Rose) Hobbs is asking that the city treat its large gay community with more respect and become involved in the fight against AIDS. O. B. Powell wants "to speak for the poor, the elderly and the handicapped" because she is all three. And Daniel Rosenberg, an "urban anthropologist" who patrols supermarket parking lots handing out IOUs to prospective voters, has developed a plan to protect the rights of renters without rent control.
In a novel tack, Allen Taylor, a retired Navy officer who recently worked as an engineer in Saudi Arabia, said he would greatly expand the 321-acre downtown redevelopment zone, then use redevelopment's special powers to condemn slum dwellings. This would eliminate hangouts for criminals, he said, while providing relocation benefits to the displaced poor.
Like Taylor, most candidates agree that crime is the district's No. 1 problem--one that leaves the city's main business and tourist district a virtual ghost town after dark. Nearly all said they would bring the beat cop back to downtown, and several said they would beef up the Police Department's anti-drug efforts. For at least a decade, District 1 has had more serious crime than any of the city's eight other council districts, police statistics show.
Other major issues include parking problems in the district's eastern area near the seashore and in the apartment-dominated neighborhoods on the periphery of the business district; anemic retail sales, especially along Pine Avenue, the city's traditional Main Street; and the city's strict earthquake ordinance, which requires restoration or demolition by 1992 of large residential buildings, containing about 3,000 dwelling units. Most of those buildings are in the downtown area, the city's oldest section. Several are designated city landmarks.