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Southeast Shake-Up by Voters : 12 Incumbents Fall in 9 Council Elections

April 10, 1986|WILLIAM NOTTINGHAM | Times Staff Writer

On nine political battlefields across the Southeast, a dozen city council incumbents fell to defeat Tuesday after fighting reelection campaigns often heightened by big spending or bitter feelings.

From larger cities such as Norwalk and Cerritos to smaller ones such as Commerce and Cudahy, voters turned out in mostly moderate numbers to shake up the establishment or, as in Bellflower, nearly replace it.

Successful candidates were frequently those who came armed with single issues: In Cudahy, an anti-gambling slate found favor with the voters, while in Bell it was three opponents of a proposed hazardous-waste incineration plant.

Political firsts were also achieved in two of the largest cities where races were particularly close and emotional.

Norwalk

In one of the largest cities, Grace Musquiz Napolitano made Norwalk history by squeaking out a 28-vote win over incumbent Councilman Lou Banas, who said Wednesday he would not ask for a recount.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 17, 1986 Home Edition Long Beach Part 9 Page 4 Column 1 Zones Desk 2 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
LaVerne Smith, a City Council candidate in Bellflower, finished fifth in the April 8 election. A story in the April 10 Southeast / Long Beach sections incorrectly reported her finish in the race. A chart in the same editions correctly listed her position. Only the top three vote-getters won election, however.

Not since 1958 had an incumbent council member in Norwalk lost a bid for reelection.

Napolitano polled 2,384 votes to Banas' 2,356 to become the first Latino woman to be elected to the council. The top vote-getter in the nine-candidate race was Mayor Marcial Rodriguez, who captured a second term, while Cecil N. Green finished second to win a fourth term. All three were elected to four-year terms.

Among the unsuccessful candidates was former City Administrator William H. Kraus, who, in a political comeback attempt, had 2,148 votes to finish fifth. Kraus was forced to resign in 1983 by the current council.

Kraus resigned after a city report questioned his personal business dealings, which it said were marked by a number of loan defaults and contacts with convicted criminals. No charges were brought in the matter.

The race was the costliest and perhaps the most bitter in the city's history. While no candidate had ever raised more than $9,000 in any previous election, Green raised $38,023 and Rodriguez $30,632 to hang on to jobs that pay $622 a month, according to the most recent campaign finance statements filed late last month.

In her campaign, Napolitano raised $22,591, of which $15,420 was her own money. Napolitano's biggest issue was council spending on travel and meetings, which she repeatedly attacked as extravagant and wasteful. The council spent $87,019 on travel and meeting expenses in the 1984-85 fiscal year, including one conference at Palm Springs that cost the city $32,596.

For Napolitano, the victory was doubly sweet because it brought her a measure of political revenge. She had served on the city's International Friendship Commission for 12 years before being removed from that panel in 1984 by the present council.

Napolitano was removed from the friendship commission after council members accused her of interfering in the politics of Hermosillo, Mexico, Norwalk's sister city. But Napolitano contends that her ouster came because she was planning to run for the council.

"It is such a beautiful high," Napolitano said Tuesday night during her victory celebration at a hotel. "We proved that it can be done."

The race in Norwalk was unusual because for the first time in the city's history, two candidates, Napolitano and Green, hired political consultants to run their campaigns. Napolitano was the first to hire a campaign manager, Randy Economy, who formerly was the city's public information officer. Economy resigned in 1984 after his job was reclassified by the current council.

"I'm absolutely elated," Economy said in an interview. "We put a lot of shoe leather into (the campaign)."

In an interview, Napolitano said she would push to limit the council's travel spending to $25,000 a year and eliminate the policy that permits spouses to accompany officials on trips at city expense.

Banas, who was first elected to the council in 1982 and was to be appointed mayor next week, said he was disappointed by the loss.

"It's somewhat ironic that I should lose to a candidate who made an issue out of something that I'm the least offender on," he said, referring to the travel expense issue. Figures released by city officials last year showed that of the three council members seeking reelection, Rodriguez and Green had spent more than double the travel expenses turned in by Banas.

Banas, however, was gracious in defeat, saying Napolitano had run a strong campaign with a lot of mailers.

Cerritos

Voters in Cerritos reelected council members Diana S. Needham and Barry A. Rabbitt, but turned out two-term Councilman Alex J. Beanum in one of the heaviest turnouts in city's 30-year history.

Challenger Ann B. Joynt, a former planning commissioner and one-time campaign manager for Needham, prevented a sweep by the incumbents, winning a seat on the council in her first try as 25% of the voters went to the polls.

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