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Avalon Mayor in 21st Dist. Race : Tide Running Against Island's Candidate

November 02, 1986|THOMAS OMESTAD | Times Staff Writer

When Gilbert R. Saldana won the Democratic primary in the 21st Congressional District, the quaint resort town of Avalon honored him with a parade, island-style.

Fireboats shot water plumes, harbor sirens wailed, and about 350 of the town's 2,200 residents turned out.

It was a satisfying moment for the young, articulate city councilman, who has made a fast start in politics, albeit from the tiny and isolated base of Santa Catalina Island.

Facing Long Odds

But Saldana, 27, is facing long odds in the general election Tuesday.

His opponent is the Republican mayor of Simi Valley, Elton Gallegly, and the 21st District, which sprawls across southern Ventura County, the northern San Fernando Valley and includes Catalina, is a GOP stronghold.

The 42-year-old Gallegly, who is outspending Saldana by about 5 to 1 in the campaign, also enjoys considerable popularity on his own, much larger turf.

Those who have observed Gallegly's six-year tenure as mayor credit him with a leading role in transforming Simi Valley from a rough-hewn, blue-collar town into an upscale, fast-growing community.

Going Upscale

Under his pro-growth policies, tract homes and strip shopping malls have spread over the Valley floor and the city's population has risen from 77,000 to 90,000.

Once-rutted roads have been replaced by paved streets. Municipal building projects pushed through by Gallegly include a $2.6-million City Hall, a $1-million senior citizens center and a remodeled police station.

Simi Valley's transformation has given Gallegly a strong identification with eastern Ventura County, a region dominated by conservative, white-collar households where nearly half of the district's voters live.

The district's 140,442 registered voters are 52% Republican and 39% Democratic.

Looking to Be First

If Gallegly wins his ticket to Washington in Tuesday's elections, he will be the first national lawmaker from eastern Ventura County, a prospect that excites people who want to see the area put its mark on federal and state politics.

Saldana, whose family origins on Catalina date back to 1915 when chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley appointed his grandfather superintendent of gardening on the island, says his future in politics will not be dimmed if he loses Tuesday.

If the vote goes to Gallegly, Saldana said in a recent interview, he will move to the Los Angeles or Ventura area when his council term expires in 1988 and consider entering state politics.

First elected to the Avalon council in 1980, Saldana took his turn as mayor two years later, becoming at 23 the youngest official with that title in the country.

His stint in the post stirred a flurry of articles in national magazines such as Time, People and Us, and he even got a mention in "Ripley's Believe It or Not."

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