Jozelle Smith, a local newspaper columnist, Tuesday became the second women in Culver City's 70-year history to be elected to the City Council, while 12-year incumbent A. Ronald Perkins was unseated and Richard M. Alexander barely survived a challenge by candidate Andrew Weissman.
Smith was the leading vote-getter in the field of seven candidates running for two council seats. The election was dominated by a bitter fight in which Weissman and other critics accused Perkins of conflict of interest involving his business dealings with convicted political corruption figure W. Patrick Moriarty.
Smith's victory may mean an end to more than 30 years of fireworks sales in Culver City. Although a 3-2 majority, including Perkins, favored fireworks sales on the previous council, Smith said she opposes them.
She said Tuesday night, however, that she is not sure whether she would vote against this year's sales, partly because her husband, Kenneth, is treasurer of a YMCA group that runs a fireworks stand and because the city has already begun this year's permit process.
Although the sale of fireworks was not a major issue in the campaign, the name of fireworks magnate Moriarty was.
Weissman charged Perkins with failing to reveal his 1982 dealings with a development company co-owned by Moriarty when Perkins was a councilman.
In a campaign letter to voters, Weissman charged that Perkins failed to report his partnership with Moriarty in statements of economic interest reports required by the state.
But Perkins said he had reported the partnership, and last week filed a $10-million libel suit against Weissman in Santa Monica Superior Court.
Tuesday night, Perkins said the publicity surrounding his reported ties to Moriarty was unfair because he dealt only with Moriarty's partner, Gary Bishop, in 1982.
He also complained that the news media had overemphasized the fireworks issue and Weissman's campaign against him. He said that Weissman would have finished first in the voting had he not run a negative campaign against Perkins.
"I think he hurt himself with the kinds of tactics he used that a lot of people didn't appreciate," Perkins said.
Some considered Weissman, who had been endorsed by three city councilmen and a local daily newspaper, the front-runner in the race.
"I went in confident in myself," he said Tuesday. "I was surprised with the results. I had expected Alexander to be No. 1 and Jozelle and myself battling for second (place). I was surprized Jozelle was so far in front."
He added, however, "Jozelle was a very, very attractive candidate. We knew there was sentiment to have a woman on the council, but I don't think it had to do with that."
Weissman said he had no regrets about how he ran his campaign, including his controversial campaign letter. "I don't think the letter backfired," he said.
Smith attributed her strong showing to support from local organizations, including a group called "Youth for Joz," composed of graduates of Culver City High School.
"I really would like to see the city establish some kind of master plan over the next four years," she said, "hopefully a two-year budget; something that the city can look at 10 to 15 years in the future instead of the short term." Smith writes for the weekly Culver City News.
She is the first woman elected to the council since Mary Louise Richardson won in 1956.
Smith received 2,561 votes (26.6%); Alexander was second with 2,358 (24.5%). Weissman, an attorney, finished third with 2,270 (23.5%) and Perkins was a distant fourth with 1,294 (13.4%).
Smith and Alexander led throughout the evening, though Weissman gave the incumbent a run for his money. With nearly half the votes counted, Weissman was within eight votes of overtaking Alexander.
Alexander, who won a fourth term on the council, called this his toughest campaign by far.
"I felt very tense throughout the entire election," he said. "I have never campaigned harder than in this election. I felt everybody was creeping up on me. I'm grateful that Culver City wanted me to be a councilman again."
Alexander said his goals in the next four years include street repair and improving traffic flow. He said he prefers to let the voters decide by a post card poll on the fireworks issue.
Richard Nielsen, an assistant attorney general, received 623 votes (6.5%); Fred Ellis, a retired contractor, got 312 (3.5%); Lisa Tracy, a security supervisor, ran last with 203 (2%).
Pauline C. Dolce, running unopposed for a fourth term as City Clerk, received 3,619 votes of the 5,158 votes cast.
29 of 29 precincts FINAL
Vote % Jozelle Smith 2,561 26.6 Richard Alexander (Inc.) 2,358 24.5 Andrew Weissman 2,270 23.5 Ron Perkins (Inc.) 1,294 13.4 Richard Nielsen 623 6.5 Fred Ellis 312 3.5 Lisa Tracy 203 2.0
Pauline Dolce was unopposed for clerk.
(Voter turnout 25.5%)