POMONA — Verbal barbs among the city's three mayoral candidates and pressure against one of the contenders to back out of the race have dominated the campaigns leading up to Tuesday's municipal election.
The heated race for mayor, along with two other contests--a rematch of a City Council race four years ago that helped spark a minority voting-rights suit against the city, and a four-way battle for a vacated council seat--have led many community leaders to describe the election as a crossroads for this politically divided and money-scarce city.
In the mayor's race, Councilwoman Donna Smith and former Councilman Clarence L. (Clay) Bryant are challenging incumbent G. Stanton Selby, highlighting conflicts over redevelopment, taxation and leadership style that have shaken Pomona in recent years.
Smith, 32, who surprised her opponents by entering the race just hours before the filing deadline on Dec. 26, said she has been encouraged by some business and civic leaders to withdraw, suggesting she would be a "political hero" to do so.
Most politicians, including Smith, agree that her candidacy virtually assures that no one in the race will gain more than 50% of the vote, thus forcing a runoff between the top two vote-getters in an April 21 general election.
One civic leader, who asked not to be identified, said he urged Smith to back out in order not to take votes away from Selby.
"I asked her if she would gracefully back out and put her public support behind Stan (Selby)," he said. "We like Donna. She's doing a good job up there. But it's not the right time for her. Let the mayor finish what he started."
Smith, who has acknowledged that her candidacy throws "a monkey wrench" into the race, said the pressure made her even more determined to take the campaign seriously.
"I know I shook people up, that I'm going against the political strength in the community," Smith said. "But I did not get in the race to be a political hero. I'm not in there for the Brownie points."
Bryant, 66, who served two four-year terms on the council and three times has been an unsuccessful candidate for mayor, said Smith probably would take away votes from both him and Selby, but not enough to hurt his own campaign.
And Selby, 66, who has said he is seeking a third two-year term as mayor partly to keep Bryant out of the post, described Smith's action as "politically immature."
Smith, who runs an automotive electrical shop with her husband, is a critic of the recent 57% increase in the local utility tax, a cautious supporter of the proposed Inland Pacific World Trade Center, and one of the main forces behind allowing residents in July to vote on a special tax that would raise about $2 million a year for police services.
"I am dedicated to seeing the community solve some of its problems," said Smith, a frequent dissenter in many council decisions since her election in 1985. "I am serious. I don't play around. If I believe in something, I'll go all the way."
Bryant, a retired engineer and consultant on government contracts, opposes the utility tax hike, opposes the trade center plan, and opposes a special safety tax because, he said, the city's redevelopment projects are not paying their fair share.
"(Voters) can go along with the same old thing with either one of those people," said Bryant, who has criticized both Smith and Selby for fostering what he calls mismanagement and dishonesty at City Hall. "I'm all the people have if they want to save money, if they want a safe city and if they want honest government--which they don't have now."
Selby, founder and director of the Pomona Concert Band, said the utility tax hike was unavoidable, the world trade center will be a boon and the safety tax is essential.
"All you have to do is just look around the city and see what's happened," said Selby, an advocate of Pomona's aggressive redevelopment efforts. "Pomona is moving very strongly in a positive direction, and I've been a part of it."
Rematch of 1983 Contest
In another council race, incumbent Mark A. T. Nymeyer is being challenged by black community leader Willie E. White, a rematch of their 1983 contest in which Nymeyer defeated White by 71 votes.
As a result of that loss, White joined two other defeated City Council candidates in a class-action lawsuit charging that the city's at-large election system is discriminatory because it dilutes the minority vote.
The suit had argued that Pomona's large black and Latino populations would be better served by dividing the city into election districts. A federal court judge in Los Angeles recently dismissed the suit.
City Council candidates currently compete within council districts, but if no candidate gains more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters must vie in a citywide at-large election.
Because Nymeyer and White are the only two candidates vying for the council seat this year, the district-by-district primary election on Tuesday will decide the race.