LONG BEACH — Already marked by heated rhetoric and extraordinary spending, four City Council campaigns were further defined this week by a flurry of accusations and name-calling as candidates geared up for Tuesday's primary election.
Councilwoman Jan Hall accused challenger Jim Serles of improperly collecting applications for absentee ballots from District 3 residents. The process followed by Serles allowed "clear abuses if not outright fraud," Hall claimed.
After a series of meetings and phone calls Monday and Tuesday, however, city and state officials said Serles' practices were legal. And Hall said she might take the matter to court if she loses the election.
In District 1, Councilman Marc Wilder finally entered the fray. Wilder, who is not seeking reelection, formally endorsed his legislative aide, Joy Melton, then blasted another candidate, attorney Ron Batson.
Wilder, who lost to Batson supporter Dennis Brown in a 1984 Assembly race, said Batson has run a campaign "full of lies and innuendoes," using a phone bank to smear other candidates and maligning Melton by misrepresenting her statements on crime.
Batson, in turn, said Wilder's comments were "indicative of Wilder's whole tenure in office. He doesn't know what's going on in the 1st District. . . . His comments are irresponsible, inaccurate and typical."
Batson said he had nothing to do with the mysterious phone bank. He said that he--along with Melton, Jenny Oropeza and Evan Anderson Braude, the other apparent front-runners in a 14-candidate field--had all been targeted by the anonymous callers.
In Batson's case, the callers had pointed out to prospective voters that Batson is divorced and lives at his 3rd Street law office, he said. Batson also said that his campaign literature accurately reflects Melton's comments on crime and safety in the downtown-area district.
For her part, Melton said she did not think Batson was behind the phone bank, but insisted that Batson had "twisted" her comments on crime to suit his purposes.
In District 7, challenger Ray Grabinski said veteran Councilwoman Eunice Sato "always preaches honesty and integrity," but violated a state campaign law this year by failing to list on a statement of economic interests a $290,000 home she bought last fall.
Question of Residence
Grabinski also found fault with Sato for allowing her three grown children to list her home as their legal residence, which qualifies them to vote in her race.
In response, Sato said her children, whose ages range from 30 to 34, "are all renting" and have not established permanent residences since leaving home--two of them several years ago--and therefore are entitled to vote in District 7.
She insisted Monday that she was not required to list the home she bought last fall on an election form because it is in Lakewood. But after checking with the city clerk's office she learned that real estate within two miles of Long Beach must be listed, and she amended her disclosure statement to include the home.
"Why is he making an issue of these things?" said Sato. "It seems to me he's getting pretty desperate. He's trying to find something."
In contrast with such goings-on, the 9th District race was relatively quiet. Incumbent Warren Harwood confidently blanketed North Long Beach with mailers, including a letter of support from Mayor Ernie Kell, while retired Fire Department Capt. Ralph Howe emphasized the endorsement of former Long Beach Fire Chief Robert Leslie and downplayed his November arrival to the district.
Called a Carpetbagger
"I've got statements from my current neighbors establishing my credibility" as a District 9 candidate, said Howe, who has been attacked by all four opponents as a carpetbagger.
Howe said a random sampling of voters indicates that he is "dead even" with Harwood. But Harwood, who plans to spend at least $15,000 of a $25,000 campaign fund during the last eight days of the race, said his surveys show Howe with 30% to 34% of the vote, the other three candidates with a total of perhaps 14% and him with the majority.
A majority is needed to win the election on Tuesday. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters in each race will move on to a June 3 runoff election.
A runoff would seem almost certain in District 1, where 14 candidates will split the vote. Oropeza, an aide to Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon (D-Alhambra) and the recipient of a recent $5,900 loan from him, claimed that her surveys show that she will be in a runoff and it identifies her opponent. She said she will face either Braude, Batson or Melton, but wouldn't say which one.
Batson also said the 28-year-old Oropeza could be the surprise of the race. Melton, a medical office administrator before she went to work for Wilder three years ago, and Braude, an attorney, each predicted runoffs for themselves.