CERRITOS — The Establishment is under attack in this city.
Twelve challengers in the April 8 election are trying to unseat three incumbents who have served on the City Council a total of 32 years and have built powerful political bases.
Mayor Diana S. Needham, 39, and Councilman Alex J. Beanum, 50, are seeking third terms, while Councilman Barry A. Rabbitt, 48, is running for an unprecedented fifth term.
Knocking off any one of the three will be, at best, a tough task for most of the challengers who are long on enthusiasm but short on cash and civic experience. Two exceptions are Ann B. Joynt, 46, a former planning commissioner who passed on a chance to manage Needham's campaign to run herself, and Ravinder Mehta, 26, a deputy district attorney who plans to spend $15,000 in the race, by far the most among the challengers seeking a seat on the five-member council.
Joynt, Mehta and the rest of the crowded field have spent weeks chipping away at the incumbents' theme that Cerritos is safe, sound and on course for a rosy future.
The challengers contend that streets, curbs and sidewalks are crumbling, crime is on the rise, and the needs of the city's elderly are being overlooked. They also say the council has lost touch with its 55,000 residents, devoting more time to big-ticket real estate deals than the city's daily affairs.
Movement to Limit Terms
"We need a council that will listen for a change," Joynt said recently, echoing the feelings of the challengers, some of whom back a movement in the city to limit the number of terms a council member may serve.
Campaign spending also has become an issue, largely because of the record amounts Needham and Beanum have raised and the nature of the contributions.
But as the incumbents see it, there are no real issues in Cerritos.
"Just a lot of candidates who want to share in the leadership of this great city," said Rabbitt, a civil engineer who was first elected to the council in 1970 during a bitter election that wrested political control, once and for all, from the city's founders, the dairymen. "Everybody wants to get on the bandwagon."
The other candidates in the race are:
Paul W. Bowlen, 45, a teacher of government at Cerritos High School; Charles K. Harner, 52, a retired customs agent; Gordon H. Lewis, 63, a commercial real estate broker; Sal L. Malonzo, 56, a development assistant; Enola Stephens, 57, a retired schoolteacher; Angel Soto, 49, an airline employee representative; Richard L. Taylor, 44, a commercial artist; Alan Ulrich, 36, a customer service agent for United Parcel Service; Frank Vallefuoco, 41, a manufacturing engineer, and Alfred S. Wells, 51, a federal police officer.
In a race that will undoubtedly become the most expensive in the city's 30-year history, Beanum and Needham have built the biggest campaign war chests. Besides the incumbents, only seven of the 12 candidates expect to spend more than $500.
The latest campaign finance reports on file say that, as of Feb. 22, Beanum had received nearly $22,000, while Needham had raised $13,044. The same records show Rabbitt had raised only $700, although he said that he expects to spend about $6,000 on mailers and campaign signs by election day.
Beanum, a civil engineer, had spent $12,332, including nearly $10,000 on a fund-raising dinner last September. The dinner, he said, netted about $12,000.
Needham, an urban planner, had spent $9,266, about $7,000 of it for a similar dinner she staged to raise money. Almost all of her campaign funds have come in as a result of the dinner, she said.
In his first run for council, Mehta said he will spend about $15,000, with much of it going to an Orange County political consulting firm he hired to guide his campaign. Nearly two-thirds of his political war chest comes from money he loaned his campaign, he said.
'That Takes Money'
"If one is committed to winning," said Mehta, who works in the Orange County District Attorney's Office, "one has to be organized, and that takes money."
Records show that Joynt raised $4,350, including a $4,000 loan from her husband. Before the race ends, she expects to have spent $6,000. Ulrich raised $2,835, while Soto loaned himself $2,543. Bowlen also loaned himself $1,000 for the race. Lewis and Vallefuoco, who are running as a slate, had raised $1,085.
Harner, Malonzo, Stephens, Taylor and Wells all filed papers indicating that they plan to raise and spend less than $500 during the campaign.
Council members receive a $530 monthly stipend, plus $30 for every redevelopment meeting they attend (a maximum of four a month) and a $200-a-month car allowance.