For 18 months, Alex Bellehumeur campaigned tirelessly for a charter amendment that in 1988 will give Long Beach its first full-time mayor.
Along the way, hundreds of people took him aside and politely asked what was in it for him.
The 52-year-old developer's stock reply was that he wanted to do something that would have "a positive impact on people." Typically, that answer was met with a "rather peculiar look" of disbelief, Bellehumeur said.
Curiosity about Bellehumeur's motives has only increased since Election Day, when the full-time mayor proposal was approved by a surprising 2-to-1 margin. There has been talk that Bellehumeur has political ambitions, either for himself or for others behind the scenes.
It just isn't so, Bellehumeur said in a recent interview.
Bellehumeur, the natty owner of Statewide Developers Inc. of Los Alamitos, which has built more than 600 apartments in Long Beach, said he tried being a politician eight years ago when he ran for City Council against 3rd District Councilwoman Jan Hall. He finished third with 311 votes--2,672 votes behind the leader. "It was an awful experience," Bellehumeur said, adding that he does not plan to run for office again for a "long time."
Bellehumeur says he did not conduct the campaign for full-time mayor for anyone else's benefit.
"In a way it is self-serving. The kind of reward I got will be one that I will remember for the rest of my life," said Bellehumeur, whose speech can be as formal as his pinstripe suits. But to make sure he was understood this time, the businessman borrowed an analogy from a health club.
"I would equate it to someone who is lifting weights, if you will, and they use the same arm and they keep going until finally they break the muscle down," he said. Business "can eventually sap your energy and you can burn out," but by diverting some of his energy into other fields, such as the campaign for a full-time mayor, Bellehumeur said, he finds he is "much more refreshed and much more dynamic" when he returns to work.
Bellehumeur began campaigning for the full-time mayor proposal in January, when a citizens committee he chaired brought the issue to the City Council. He served as a member of a council task force that studied the issue. And he was co-chairman of the Committee for a Full-Time Mayor that campaigned for the charter amendment in all nine City Council districts.
An insight into Bellehumeur's leadership was provided by Michael Long, a graduate student in public administration at California State University, Long Beach. Long called Bellehumeur last year when he decided to write a research paper on a local political campaign. He wound up as the secretary and treasurer of the full-time mayor committee. He still hasn't written his paper.
"Alex is a persistent man," Long said. "The night of the election he told me if it doesn't win we'll meet tomorrow and we'll start all over again and we'll get it right this time."
Luanne Pryor, a public relations consultant, recalled Bellehumeur was well-organized and "very tenacious" when he recruited her for the full-time mayor campaign. "He had agendas for everybody at the first meeting. He had the whole thing laid out. A few people balked at that," she said.
Both Pryor and Long discount a future run for political office by Bellehumeur.
"Alex lost his taste for serving in public office" in the 1978 run for council, Long said, adding, "I think he has found he's more effective behind the scenes."
Pryor said, "I think (Bellehumeur) wants a role in the power structure, I think he wants to change things." She added that in the past year, due to the full-time mayor campaign, the developer's name recognition has increased greatly.
Bellehumeur said he ran for office in 1978 because he was new in town and had been advised by a friend, Cypress Mayor Otto Lacayo, that "that's how you get to know people." But in recent months, Bellehumeur may have figured out a better way.
During an interview, Bellehumeur was interrupted by his secretary, who said Councilman Warren Harwood was on the line, and that it was urgent that he speak with the developer.
Bellehumeur politely excused himself and took the call. In the clubby world of city politics, he seemed at home.