LONG BEACH — Community activist Ray Grabinski routed three-term Councilwoman Eunice Sato on Tuesday to demonstrate that a candidate short of funds but backed by dozens of precinct-walking volunteers can defeat an odds-on favorite.
Grabinski won by a 3-to-2 margin, but voters made it close in the other two races--returning Jan Hall to the council for a third term and electing Evan Anderson Braude, a Long Beach congressman's stepson, to his first term. It was the second time Hall had defeated challenger Jim Serles.
Indirectly, the election also seemed to guarantee Ernie Kell another term as the city's mayor since Grabinski appears to be Kell's fifth vote on the nine-member council. Kell attended Grabinski's victory celebration.
"I like Ernie, he's really been a supporter of mine over the years," Grabinski said.
Nearly 51% of registered voters turned out for the citywide election, which was also a state and federal primary. Of the three districts with contested council races, turnout was strongest in District 3 in the city's affluent southeast, where 53.8% voted and a slender majority, 51.7%, handed Hall another four-year term.
In District 7 on the westside, where only a third of registered voters cast ballots in the April primary, 48.9% voted in the Grabinski landslide. About 40% of District 1 voters turned out to decide that Braude would replace retiring downtown-area Councilman Marc A. Wilder.
New Terms for Harwood, Kell
In the April primary, District 9 Councilman Warren Harwood won reelection. Kell, the District 5 councilman, was unopposed in the primary and reappointed to a fourth council term. Members from even-numbered districts will be chosen in 1988.
Grabinski, a 42-year-old delicatessen owner who had campaigned nonstop for 14 months, walking his district four times, said extraordinary grass-roots support from 20 community and special-interest groups gave him the win.
He said that the contest with Sato--who had sailed through three previous races--was a clear test of whether such groups can influence a Long Beach election.
Grabinski supporters included the liberal 580-member Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, which staked its reputation as the city's most politically active community group on defeating Sato. Other supporters were two city labor unions, the local teachers' union, a labor coalition, a gay political group, the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, a Latino political group and the Gray Panthers.
At the core of Grabinski's campaign were about 35 workers from a California Heights group he helped found six years ago when fighting construction of an oil refinery in that neighborhood. Over the years, he has been spokesman for that group on several issues at City Hall.
Grabinski, who had challenged Sato as a reluctant leader who had sidestepped her district's most pressing problems, said, "I have nothing bad to say about Eunice."
He spent only about $25,000, compared to more than $40,000 for Sato, but "we had more dedicated, busy volunteers than any other campaign," he said.
"That litmus test (of community-group influence) certainly must have been passed tonight," Grabinski said. "There had been this perception that Eunice couldn't be beat."
Bitter in Defeat
Sato, 64, a former schoolteacher and missionary, who had worked virtually full time at the $12,600-a-year, part-time council post since 1975, was bitter in defeat.
"There was a lot of misinformation, distortion and innuendo. I just came out with the truth and hoped that people would see through the muck," she said.
Then, gathered with a handful of supporters at her Easy Avenue home, an emotional but low-key Sato pointed to them and said: "These people know what I stand for. They know the good Christian ethics . . . honesty and integrity."
Sato, who'd said she expected to win the primary 2-to-1 and expressed shock when she didn't, said she would run her campaign the same way if she had it to do again. "I'm me and the other guy is the other guy, and there's a difference."
After 11 years of public service and a tough campaign, Sato said she now plans a rest.
While the Grabinski-Sato race was decided early Tuesday evening, the other two hinged upon a final vote count that was not announced until 12:54 a.m., after an agonizing 1-hour, 38-minute delay.
Lynda Burgess, city election coordinator, said the final tally was held up because four large boxes of ballots had been dropped off at a county registrar of voters check-in point at Wilson High School and held there until nearly 12:30. "They were waiting to get everything in so they'd only have to make one delivery," said Burgess.
Hall, 43, waited for the vote to come in with about 100 supporters at the packed Captain's Quarters Restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway. "It's doing exactly what it always does," said Hall before the final returns. "We start slow and end up speedy."