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Full-Time Mayor Voting Even Fails to Ignite Long Beach Supporters

October 30, 1986|RALPH CIPRIANO | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — It wasn't exactly a hard sell.

Councilman Thomas J. Clark was on the stump, talking about a city charter amendment for a full-time mayor.

A full-time mayor could have "a considerable role for leadership," Clark told 17 residents gathered in a Methodist Church chapel on a World Series night.

But under questioning, Clark admitted he disagreed with a key provision that makes the full-time mayor a non-voting member of the City Council.

"I wish it were stronger," Clark said of the amendment, adding that he favors a "strong" full-time mayor who could vote at council meetings.

Several residents at the meeting, however, said they were not interested in having either a strong or a weak full-time mayor.

"I don't want a big-time city mayor. We're still a small city at heart," said Ralph Hand.

Added Joe Meyer, "They're asking the doggone voters to buy a pig in a poke."

Elected Citywide

Under Proposition R on Tuesday's ballot, the full-time mayor would be elected citywide and paid $67,500 a year. Currently, the City Council appoints one of its members to serve as a part-time mayor who is paid $13,800 a year.

The mayor would have veto power. But on everything except the budget, the veto could be overridden by a simple majority of council members. A two-thirds vote would be necessary to override mayoral vetoes on budget items.

The proposition is bucking history. In 1982, voters rejected a similar proposal for a full-time mayor by a 3-1 margin.

This time around the proposition has widespread but nominal support among the city's political and business leaders. Charles E. Greenberg, an attorney who has boosted Proposition R at debates, said he was worried that support for the measure is "a mile wide and three inches deep."

"Everybody assumes it's going to be passed, but nobody feels compelled to get behind it," Greenberg said.

Alex Bellehumeur, a Los Alamitos developer who led a citizens' drive in favor of a full-time mayor, said supporters have had trouble raising money.

"We're having some problem with campaign fund raising simply because it's an abstract issue," Bellehumeur said.

Donations Back Measure

The Committee for an Elected Mayor had raised $6,774 as of Oct. 4, according to city records. Major contributors include Cypress developer Roy Hearrean, who donated $990; Bellehumeur, who gave $225, and Harbor Bank President James Gray, who gave $200.

The only announced opponents of Proposition R are the Long Beach Area Citizens Involved and the Downtown Long Beach Associates. Neither group is conducting an extensive campaign against the proposition.

Sid Solomon, president of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, said the activist group will spend less than $200 to defeat Proposition R. "Even if Prop R passes, what have we got? A ribbon-cutting, ineffective mayor that means very little," Solomon said.

The amendment could touch off a costly citywide race for mayor that could leave the winner "beholden to special interests," said R. Fred Kugler, first vice president for Long Beach Area Citizens Involved who has spoken against Proposition R at debates.

An official for the 1,100-member Downtown Long Beach Associates said that that organization had merely sent a letter to the City Council saying its members oppose Proposition R. Bill Gurzi, chairman of the group's political action committee, said it would create a "ceremonial leader" who "commands a greater salary for performing the same duties but with very little extension of influence."

But some supporters say the city needs a full-time mayor to solve a political identity crisis.

"When you think of San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles, you think of strong leaders like Mayor Dianne Feinstein, Mayor Tom Bradley and Sen. (and former Mayor) Pete Wilson," said Elaine Hutchinson, chairwoman of the board of directors of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. "But when you think of Long Beach, you don't think of anyone in charge."

Hutchinson added that Long Beach, which has 391,250 residents, is one of only two of the nation's 50 most populous cities that do not have elected mayors.

Implementation Costs

The amendment would cost $225,000 to implement, according to figures released by the city auditor; that includes the mayor's $67,500 salary plus $30,935 in benefits, and $30,245 in salary and $19,508 in benefits for the mayor's legislative assistant, plus other costs. The proposal also would boost the salary of City Council members $4,275 a year or 34%, from the current $12,600 to $16,875.

The price tag for a full-time mayor is a bargain, its supporters say.

"The cost of a mayor at large is not a cost, it's an investment" in the city's future prosperity, Bellehumeur told residents at a recent meeting. The full-time mayor is needed because under the current system of nine council members elected by district, "we don't have a government representing the city, we have a government representing nine cities."

Bellehumeur told residents unhappy with the proposal that it can be modified by future charter amendments, and that a mandatory review of the full-time mayor is scheduled by 1990.

"It's not something that's cast in stone, it's something that can be modified quite easily by 1990," he said.

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