CERRITOS — After reassuring his colleagues that he will not leave the city before his term expires next year, City Councilman Daniel K. Wong was elected mayor of Cerritos on Tuesday night.
It had been widely speculated in recent weeks that Wong was positioning himself to run for elective office in Monterey Park in 1988, a move that would require him to resign from the Cerritos Council before his current term ends next April.
That speculation was boosted by several Monterey Park officials who said that Wong told them he wants to run for council in that city, where 40% of the residents are Asians. As a result, several Cerritos council members had said they might not support Wong's bid for mayor.
But Tuesday the 45-year-old Wong received the backing of all four of his colleagues, including outgoing Mayor Don Knabe and Councilwoman Ann B. Joynt. The two had originally opposed Wong's becoming mayor. Joynt had said she was upset by Wong's recent statements that he planned to challenge a voter-approved limitation of council terms, Proposition H, in the courts. And Knabe had said he could not vote for Wong for mayor if he planned to resign in mid-term and run for office in Monterey Park, where Wong bought a house earlier this year and plans to expand his medical practice.
Selection Made Unanimous
But Joynt and Knabe joined council members Diana Needham and Barry A. Rabbitt in making Wong's selection as mayor unanimous. Needham, Wong's longtime friend, placed his name in nomination and then was the first to congratulate him after the vote, giving Wong a hug.
"I knew Dan had it on a 3-2 vote," Needham said later. "But it pleased me a great deal that the last two members joined to make it unanimous. We have a reputation in this city of getting along and not having a lot of infighting and backbiting . . . and I didn't want this to be an exception."
Rabbitt, the dean of the current council who was elected last year to a record fifth term, is the new mayor pro tem.
It is the second time Wong has been mayor in his nine years on the council. Wong, a Chinese-American and a physician, was narrowly elected mayor by a 3-2 vote in 1983 with Knabe and former Councilman Alex H. Beanum dissenting.
Despite public and private assurances from Wong that he plans to stay in Cerritos, Knabe said he still has doubts about the new mayor's intentions. "I'm not really satisfied that he won't go," Knabe said after the council's annual reorganization meeting at City Hall. Knabe said he went along and voted for Wong with the others because "I didn't have enough votes to switch it around . . . so why create a stink?"
Rabbitt, however, said he believes Wong will complete his term as mayor. If Wong left now, Rabbitt said, it would create ill will in Cerritos that would follow Wong to Monterey Park. "He couldn't leave here in disrepute and expect to be held in high regard there," Rabbitt said. "He's locked in (Cerritos) with 100% assurance. . . . "
Third Terms Banned
Joynt said she decided to support Wong after he promised not to spearhead an effort to overturn Proposition H in the courts. The measure, which prohibits council members from serving more than two consecutive four-year terms, was supported by Joynt and was overwhelmingly approved by voters last November. Under the amendment to the City Charter, Wong and Knabe would not be allowed to run for council when their terms expire next April. But at a council meeting last week, Wong said he wanted to test the constitutionality of the two-term limitation in court.
"When I heard that, I nearly fell off my chair," Joynt said this week. "I was so mad. . . . " But after several phone calls from Wong over the weekend and a "lot of soul-searching," Joynt said, she decided to vote for Wong. "I'm thoroughly convinced that (Wong) will not challenge Proposition H," she said.
But following his election as mayor, Wong said he would support efforts to exempt current council members from the new law, which goes into effect with the April, 1988, city elections. Wong, along with Knabe, Rabbitt and Needham, all say that the two-term limitation should not apply to incumbents.
And they said this week they will probably seek an independent legal opinion about the prospects of contesting that portion of the law. City Atty. Kenneth L. Brown ruled last year that Proposition H would apply to current council members, a position that Rabbitt says he questions.