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Control of City Hall Up for Grabs in Bitter Carson Race

February 19, 1987|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

CARSON — Politics is the rage here and rage marks the city's politics.

Eight candidates are running for the seat involuntarily vacated by former council member Walter J. (Jake) Egan, who was convicted in October of political corruption involving extortion and mail fraud.

One of the candidates is suing another for a campaign brochure from the last election that alleged he is mixed up with drug dealers--which he denies. Speeches commonly make reference to carpetbaggers, dupes, dirty politics, deceit, rubber stamps, laughingstocks and racial divisiveness.

The tone of the campaign itself has become an issue.

"When," wondered candidate Al Castaneda publicly last week, "can we ever again be proud of Carson?"

Control of City Hall

The stakes are nothing less than control of City Hall, at least in the short term:

With bitterly opposed factions deadlocked 2-2 on key issues since June, the outcome of the March 3 election could tip the balance--if either side's candidate is elected. Or it could lead to a prolonged seesaw between factions if an independent comes to power.

Whatever the result, a replay a year later is likely when that seat and two others come up.

On the council, ill will has reached such a point that members privately volunteer the opinion that their colleagues belong behind bars--along with the disgraced Egan. At council sessions, the two sides trade withering insults and at times appear to have great difficulty maintaining simple civility.

"I was stunned to see what was going on in the council meeting . . . ," said candidate Carole Ellwood. "There was a lot of bickering and nit-picking and insulting."

Council Exchange

For example, this exchange took place on Jan. 26, a few minutes after Mayor Sylvia Muise cut off council member Vera Robles DeWitt from further discussion of an agenda item:

"The snide remarks that go on in this council, meeting after meeting, are coming to the point of ridiculousness . . . ," complained DeWitt.

"This evening, as it was (during the) last council meeting, was very stressful and distasteful in how we conduct ourselves and I am hoping, Madame Mayor, that you wield that gavel with a little more compassion and a little more decorum. It is important."

Without missing a beat, Muise gave as good as she got.

"Councilwoman DeWitt," she responded in measured tones, "I'm certain that you will heed your own comments."

Appreciative snickers from the audience greeted this sally, but on the campaign trail, council conduct and the embittered relations between the two factions are not matters for levity.

A Common Issue

To be sure, crime, parks, pollution, mobile-home rents, street maintenance and other staples of municipal politics are important issues in the campaign, but achieving peace on the council has been cited by all of the candidates as the most important.

"This city in many eyes is the laughingstock of the South Bay," candidate Michael I. Mitoma told a homeowners group last week.

In one way or another, all the candidates have their ideas on how to improve council conduct--and why their opponents will be unsuccessful.

- A victory for Mitoma or Aaron M. Carter would mean the formation of a three-member majority able to out-muscle the other side. Mitoma, president of Pacific Business Bank, is backed by DeWitt and Councilwoman Kay Calas. Carter, a Hughes Aircraft Co. engineer, is backed by Muise and Mayor Pro Tem Tom Mills. Both are running substantial campaigns.

- The two independents with the best-funded campaigns--Roye Love, a Los Angeles County administrator of employment programs, and Charles Peters, a retired medical clinic administrator--say they expect to be the swing vote on key issues.

- Among the other independents, all of whom are running more limited campaigns, retired IBM employee Harry Daigle says he will be a mediator; Ellwood, a newcomer to the city, says she will defuse factionalism by looking at issues from a fresh perspective; oil company blue-collar employee James Fritz promises "common sense," and Castaneda, an international transportation consultant, says he will be impartial.

Castaneda summed up arguments against the endorsed candidates: "Carter will just be a yes-man to the Muise-Mills faction and Mitoma will be a yes-man to Calas and DeWitt."

Carter demurs: "Throughout my life, I have never been a rubber stamp."

Working Majority Promoted

Mitoma, who also avers independence, suggests that a working majority--with himself part of it--is preferable to an unsettled balance in which two equal factions vie for the approval of the one in the middle attempting to play power broker.

"Jake Egan was the master of this. He . . . worked one against the other," Mitoma said.

The heated temper of this campaign for a job that pays $671.34 a month is nothing new for Carson.

Indeed, acrimony and scandal in Carson politics have a history as long as the city, incorporated in 1968, and have left a legacy of mistrust and suspicion in the political community, observers say.

Other Officials Jailed

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