LONG BEACH — After he rolled over nine other candidates in a special election Tuesday to become only the second black council member ever elected in the city, Clarence Smith declared that "victory is sweet."
Smith, the candidate with the most endorsements and money, was elected from the 6th District, succeeding the late James Wilson.
Wilson, 58, the first black in Long Beach to be elected to office, died June 12 of a heart attack, a month after he resigned from office. Wilson, who served for 16 years, left office following a conviction on 21 fraud counts for accepting about $54,000 from convicted political fixer W. Patrick Moriarty.
Up From the Ranks
Like Wilson, who worked his way up from City Hall janitor, Smith also rose through City Hall ranks, beginning as a city employee in 1950 to his current position as director of the Recreation Department's central facilities center. He also is an NAACP board member and president and founder of the Afro-American Youth Service Foundation, which has produced cultural programs for local cable television.
Smith, 55, said he would fulfill a campaign pledge to retire from his Recreation Department job to work full time as a $12,600 a-year councilman.
"We have a very splendid community and I'm going to pull it together," said Smith, who credited his victory to "the spirit of the Holy Christ, Jesus."
"Once (Jesus) opens the door for you, all you got to do is walk in," Smith said.
Smith polled 1,494 votes or 53.2% to win the remainder of Wilson's four-year term, which expires in July, 1988.
During a two-month campaign, Smith raised $12,000 and won numerous endorsements from labor, community and religious groups. Those endorsements included the near-unanimous support of the active members of the NAACP's local board of directors, even though that organization's president, Frank L. Berry, was also a candidate.
Smith also ran with endorsements from the central city's United Ministerial Alliance, the Long Beach Labor Coalition and the Downtown Business Assn. He also was supported by unions representing City Hall, police and firefighters, and Lambda, a Democratic gay and lesbian organization.
Finishing behind Smith was Berry, 43, a budget administrator at Todd Shipyards in San Pedro, who had 598 votes or 21.4%, and John Rambo, 41, a former Olympic medalist and community relations employee of General Telephone, who received 283 votes or 10.1%.
Berry, who during the campaign was accused of being a carpetbagger, could not be reached for comment. A Long Beach resident from 1964 to 1977, Berry lived in Carson until April, when he moved into the 6th District. He was endorsed by Wilson's widow, Audrey, and Wilson's legislative aide, Molli Ellis.
Rambo, who during the campaign promised fresh leadership, said he was surprised by the strength of Smith's victory.
'A Strange Animal'
"Politics is a strange animal," Rambo said. "I (felt) that if I did lose, I didn't think it would be as overwhelming as it was in this case."
Rambo said he was also disappointed by the voter turnout of 25.1%, calling it a "sad commentary" on the district.
He said that he would leave his job with General Telephone on Sept. 30 to run classes to help high school youth prepare for college entrance exams. He said he also plans to pursue a career as a television sports commentator.
Nil S. Hul, a Cambodian immigrant and grocer, finished fourth with 153 votes or 5.4%. In an interview Wednesday, Hul said the results were "OK for my first try," and said he would again run for the 6th District council seat.
Rounding out the field were Wendell W. Whisenton, who had 87 votes or 3.1%; Mineo Miyagishma, who had 52 or 1.8%; Emma Calhoun Conley, who had 44 votes or 1.6%; Ron Barnes, who had 34 votes or 1.2%; Dezebee T. Miles, who had 34 votes or 1.2%, and Hudena James, who had 25 votes or 0.9%.
'We have a very splendid community and I'm going to pull it together.'