LONG BEACH — In an election significant beyond individual council districts, voters will decide Tuesday who will replace retiring Councilman Marc A. Wilder and whether veteran Councilwomen Jan Hall and Eunice Sato will serve another term.
By July 15, when the new council is sworn in, at least one first-term member, and possibly three, will hold a seat. An Aug. 26 special election in the 6th District will add another new member to the council.
That shift of up to four members on the nine-member council could be the most far-reaching in decades and comes as the city is planning for the next century--and while it is trying to decide if it wants a full-time mayor and more flights at its airport.
District Issues Dominate
However, the issues of full-time mayor and airport expansion, and other citywide considerations, have taken a back seat to district concerns and to matters of style and personality in all three races to be decided in runoff elections this week.
In District 1, attorneys Evan Anderson Braude, a 38-year-old Democrat, and Ron Batson, a 46-year-old Republican, are waging an increasingly partisan and hostile campaign to see who will replace Wilder. Batson led by 11 votes in the April 8 primary.
In the city's southeast, two-term District 3 incumbent Hall, 43, is fighting to survive another challenge from dentist Jim Serles, 45, whom she narrowly defeated in 1982. Hall led by 108 votes in April.
And in District 7, Sato, 64, is trying to overcome the aggressive 14-month campaign of delicatessen owner Ray Grabinski, 42, who shocked the three-term incumbent in the primary by forcing her into a runoff. Sato had said she expected to win by 2,000 votes in the primary, but led by 127.
The incumbents have been criticized for lack of leadership and have responded by citing their records. All three campaigns have been bitter.
Full-Time Mayor Urged
In what have amounted to campaign asides, five of the six candidates have said they want a full-time mayor and some additional restructuring of city government, with only Sato favoring the present ceremonial mayoralty. In recent weeks even Sato, who initially called the restructuring a waste of taxpayers' money, has allowed that the matter should be placed on the November ballot.
The airport issue, though hardly foremost in any race, has taken on some immediacy in two campaigns because parts of the 3rd and 7th Districts are affected by commercial air traffic. All four candidates in those districts oppose more flights.
Grabinski has stressed the issue more than any other candidate, criticizing Sato for a change of position. Sato says she wants to maintain the current schedule of 18 flights a day if it is legally defensible in the face of federal pressure to increase flights.
But in a March campaign questionnaire, Sato said that "as long as the noise impact inside the perimeter of the airport is contained, the flights possibly can be increased to 21 or 26 or 41."
Grabinski, a resident of California Heights, in the flight path, has cited noise and safety concerns in opposing any more flights.
In District 3, Hall has mentioned that Serles, as president of the Chamber of Commerce in 1979, favored increasing flights. Serles says he argued for a jump from 12 to 15 flights seven years ago but now believes the number should remain at 18.
In District 1, a downtown area far from the airport, Braude and Batson say more flights seem inevitable, considering federal insistence on expansion. "We probably need some expansion," Braude said. Batson said a City Council-appointed task force's recommendation of 41 flights if noise can be controlled with quieter aircraft seems reasonable "considering the threat of federal government takeover."
Another issue that must be handled on a citywide basis is campaign contribution reform. With reform stuck in a council committee for 18 months, it may now be revived because campaign expenses this spring have bothered all six candidates.
Batson, who has personally financed about half of his $50,000 campaign, says solicitation of contributions tends to make council members beholden to individuals and special interests. Braude, who expects to match Batson's expenditures, said he hates "always having to ask for more money" and wants to see limits on contributions.
Record Campaign Costs
By May 22, with Hall and Serles each spending at least $75,000, the total cost of the campaign will easily be a record for a Long Beach council race. The Braude-Batson race will cost $100,000, the candidates say, while Sato, who has spent a total of $20,000 in three previous campaigns, says she will spend at least $40,000 this time. Grabinski had spent $17,000 by May 22, but costs will eventually total at least $25,000, he said.
Council members are paid $12,600 a year.