Sato insisted that most of the groups supporting Grabinski are special interests looking out only for themselves.
"I cannot represent these special-interest groups," Sato said. "My concern has always been the great masses of people who have no special interest and expect to have a good community in which to live."
She derides Citizens Involved as "a small, loud group" with little or no power. And, she says, the efforts of the City Employees Assn. and the other groups won't come to much.
'Always Against Me'
"They've always been against me, so what's new?" said Sato, a former schoolteacher. "They don't know who they are opposing. They don't know my strength. My strength is my solid record of 10 years on the City Council and 25 years in this city. When I work (for constituents) every day for 10 years, that's solid."
Sato, however, has been pleased to walk the 7th District two days a week for the last month accompanied by a Long Beach fireman, whose union is the only major one in town to endorse her.
"I'm very proud to have a fireman walking with me," but it's impossible to tell if the firefighters' presence yields any votes, she said.
The Long Beach Fire Fighters Assn., which withheld its support in District 7 in 1982, backed Sato this time "because we've been able to deal with her a lot better during the past few years," said Harold Omel, union president.
Omel said the firefighters had declined to support Sato in the last election because the city's other two major employee unions, the police officers and city employees associations, had opposed her. Those two unions see her as a staunch supporter of city management.
Sato has requested help from only one or two firefighters at a time, Omel said, but more will be provided to work phones as election day nears, he said.
Though getting little support from special-interest groups, Sato has received campaign contributions from Mayor Ernie Kell and from several large corporations, including McDonnell Douglas Corp., Hughes Aircraft Co., Jet America Airlines and Wrather Port Properties Ltd. She has raised more than $24,000 compared to about $15,000 for Grabinski.
Candidates say endorsements of special-interest and neighborhood groups impress voters and help raise campaign funds, though contributions from the groups themselves often are no more than $1,000 to $1,500 per election.
More valuable are the volunteers each group can provide. Especially valuable are the firefighters, who come with a good-guy reputation, candidates say.
Omel said he can have 70 firefighters on the stump on a weekend day. Miller said the City Employees Assn. is much more active than in previous campaigns and will provide 100 workers this time. And Solomon insisted that 400 Citizens Involved members worked for Councilman Wallace Edgerton in 1984, when he won with nearly three-fourths of the vote.
The impact of special-interest groups has indisputably increased since 1976, when voters narrowly approved a measure that required election of City Council members from nine districts instead of citywide.
With district elections, groups such as the firefighters were able to concentrate on a smaller area and see the effect, Omel said. And groups like the Downtown Long Beach Associates have seen their campaign contributions go further, said its president, Vito Romans.
'Exercising Their Muscle'
"Now the power base has been diffused, and more groups are exercising their muscle," Kell said.
While the Sato-Grabinski race is the most clear cut in terms of special-interest support, unions and community groups are also being heard in the 1st District.
There, in the city's diverse downtown area, Evan Anderson Braude has the support of the Labor Coalition, Joy Melton has the endorsement of the firefighters and police unions, and Jenny Oropeza is getting help from several groups for which she has worked. The Downtown Long Beach Associates, which traditionally has distributed several thousand dollars to candidates, has made contributions but will not endorse until after the primary, Romans said.
Melton said she values the endorsements she has received, but added: "I think we establish our own volunteer base from within our own community. I don't know how effective these organizations are in bringing out the vote."
But Oropeza, co-chairman of the unsuccessful 1984 initiative effort to elect school board members by district rather than citywide, figures that at least 25% of her current workers come from that campaign.
"I've been an active part of them," she said. "It's like having one of your own run, and that's compelling to people. . . . There is a new awakening among community groups about the impact these groups can have."
Most major community and labor groups have also endorsed in the 3rd District, with the firefighters and police backing Councilwoman Jan Hall and several other organizations favoring James Serles.