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Mitoma Edges Out Carter in Bitter Carson Contest

March 05, 1987|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

CARSON — Banker Michael I. Mitoma, a candidate backed by one of two bitterly opposed City Council factions, narrowly won a 13-month council term Tuesday, defeating seven other candidates.

Mitoma will complete the unexpired term of Walter J. (Jake) Egan, who was forced off the council in October after his conviction on political corruption charges involving extortion and mail fraud.

Mitoma's victory signals the formation of a three-member council majority including himself, Kay Calas and Vera Robles DeWitt, both of whom supported Mitoma. "Our boy won!" a gleeful Calas shouted at Mitoma's victory celebration.

If Calas and DeWitt are indirect victors, Mayor Sylvia Muise and Mayor Pro Tem Tom Mills, who supported Aaron Carter, a Hughes Aircraft engineer who came in second, are the losers.

Also on the losing side is Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd (D-Hawthorne), whose support of Carter was faulted as meddlesome and inappropriate by Democratic supporters of Mitoma. Although the race was nonpartisan, Carter abandoned a lifelong affiliation as a Republican 4 1/2 months before the election to become a Democrat, a move criticized by opponents as contrived to attract black votes.

Acrimony between the two factions that has marked council sessions persisted as election results became known Tuesday.

"Dirty politics no longer works in the city of Carson," declared Mitoma, who was the object of a last-minute attack in a Carter brochure that reached voters on Monday. "People are going to have to run clean campaigns or they won't get elected. . . . The last-minute smear sheets didn't work."

Carter, referring to himself in the third person, said in an interview, "Carter didn't lose; Carson lost." He said he will run again in April, 1988, when the seats of Mitoma, DeWitt and Calas come up again. In his remarks, he resurrected his campaign accusation that Mitoma does not live in the city.

"We gave up a big chunk of the city tonight to a candidate who by no stretch of the imagination lives here or has an interest in the city," he said.

Mitoma, who said he has lived in Carson since November, 1985, when he filed as a candidate for the 1986 council races, has dared Carter to try to prove otherwise in court. "I hope he does," Mitoma said. "That will put an end to it."

The two are already embroiled in a court battle over a campaign brochure from the 1986 election that accused Mitoma and Pacific Business Bank, where he is president, of laundering drug-trafficking money. Mitoma has denied the accusation in a suit naming Carter, Muise and Mills, who, he alleges, were behind the flyer.

According to unofficial returns, Mitoma won with a plurality of 2,422 votes, 36.1% of the 6,718 votes cast. Carter had 2,163, or 32.2% and independent Roye Love garnered 1,301 votes, or 19.4%. In fourth place was independent Charles Peters, 224 votes or 3.3%. The other four candidates each received less than 3% of the vote. Turnout was 19.7%, about average for special elections in Carson.

Mitoma , who is of Japanese ancestry, was seen as being aided by a split in the black vote, judging by precinct returns and interviews with campaign officials.

Mitoma swept precincts in the south, where the population is largely a mixture of Anglo, Latino and Asian residents, picking up only scattered pockets of votes in the north, with heavy concentrations of black residents.

The black vote was split more or less evenly between two black candidates, Carter and Love. Carter broke away from Love, coming within striking distance of overtaking Mitoma, with lopsided majorities in the city's politically active mobile home parks, where turnout was as high as 57%. Flyers had circulated in the mobile home parks accusing Mitoma of favoring mobile home park owners over people living there.

Suspense Builds

On election night, suspense over the outcome reached its height after all the precincts--but not the absentee ballots--had been counted. Carter had pulled to within 46 votes of Mitoma. But absentees went 3-to-1 for Mitoma--surprising Carter, who had mounted a special effort for the absentee vote.

Mitoma's victory came despite a last-minute effort by the Carter campaign that included the critical brochure and endorsement letters from Assemblyman Floyd and Mayor Muise.

"Three Reasons Why You Won't Like Mike" was the theme of a Carter brochure on Mitoma that reached residents on Monday.

The brochure accused Mitoma of being the candidate of "big money special interests," displaying a cartoon dinosaur with a swollen belly greedily eating money. (Mitoma reported $15,352 in loans and contributions for his 1987 campaign; Carter reported $10,305, including $2,899 spent by Floyd.)

The brochure also asserted that Mitoma really lives in Rosemead, adding that "he wants to be your councilman, he just doesn't want to be your neighbor."

Finally, Carter's brochure said Mitoma "appears to be the handpicked candidate of Councilwoman Vera DeWitt."

Disgusted by Attacks

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