LONG BEACH — Encouraged by an upbeat survey of community leaders, Councilwoman Jan Hall said last week that she will challenge Mayor Ernie Kell in the city's first election of a full-time mayor next April.
Hall, a three-term councilwoman, said she decided to run for the $67,500-a-year mayor's post on Easter after a day of soul-searching with her family.
"Now I will go to people and see if I can gather the support necessary to carry on a campaign," said Hall, who spent about $125,000 to gain reelection last year and estimates that the mayor's race will cost $250,000.
At the same time, Councilman Thomas Clark, a former mayor who, like Hall, is a conservative Republican, said he will announce on Monday or Tuesday whether he will also seek the mayoralty or run for reelection in the 4th District.
City Hall insiders say Clark, who would have to give up his council seat to run for mayor and his optometry business if he won, has told them he probably will skip the race; but Clark said in an interview last week that he wanted to consider his options over the weekend.
Clark said that he and Hall, council allies for several years, recently commissioned a survey of about 100 community and business leaders to find out who would be the stronger challenger to Kell.
"I think we draw upon some of the same resources and constituents. And if someone is going to make a strong challenge you obviously need to have all those things going for you," Clark said.
The survey indicated that Hall, 44, would run stronger than Clark, 60, both confirmed.
"It showed that I can really win that race," Hall said. "I'm energetic. I'm younger . . . I'm consistent on the issues. The survey was impressions, nothing scientific."
Kell, who ousted Clark as mayor in 1984 and was reappointed by the City Council majority last July, said he will not formally announce his intentions until late this year.
But he has scheduled a May 27 fund-raising dinner, he said. A retired millionaire developer, Kell would not say how much of his own money he might spend.
"I'm not going to get involved with any of the politics until I make my decision in December," Kell said. "They have the responsibility of trying to challenge, but I have the responsibility of being mayor . . . . I don't have time to engage in trivial wishing contests some other people might be involved in."
Until the job becomes full time next June, the mayor has no more power than other council members except for his ability to appoint city commissioners. The mayor presides over meetings, has extra ceremonial duties and is paid $14,430 compared to a $13,230 annual council salary.
By a 2-to-1 margin, voters last November approved electing a full-time mayor.
Candidate filing does not begin until Jan. 14, but two other candidates have already announced their intention to run. They are Don G. Gill, executive director of the Pacific Hospital Foundation, and Dan Rosenberg, a part-time adult school teacher and community activist. Gill, a 64-year-old former Chamber of Commerce president, has never run for public office before. Rosenberg, 58, lost in the 1st District council primary in 1986. City Auditor Robert Fronke is also "seriously considering" a run for mayor and he said Thursday that he will make up his mind within a few weeks.
"I'm still trying to get the pulse of the community as to whether they want another major candidate in that race from outside the council," said Fronke, who lost 55% to 45% to Ollie Speraw for state Senate in 1980.
Some Hall supporters have said they hope Fronke, a Democrat, runs in 1988, because his candidacy could pull support away from Kell, also a Democrat.
Both Fronke and Hall said, however, that political party membership is irrelevant in the nonpartisan mayoral race. "I think I'd pick up a lot of Republican votes too," Fronke said. He joins Kell and Hall as fiscal conservatives, the auditor said.
Fronke said that he is considering an early announcement because Kell is attending many community meetings, using his title to "try to sew it up early. He's the sitting mayor, and he has all kinds of natural opportunities to push his candidacy."
Hall and Clark each said their campaigns would focus not only on their abilities but also on Kell, who they say is an unimaginative leader.
"Kell is not someone you see promoting new ideas or continually giving the council direction. He has a tendency to accept things as they are," Clark said. And Hall said Kell "functions on a day-to-day basis. The new mayor has to have vision . . . and he is a caretaker."
Kell, in turn, said he found it curious that such comments would be made by Hall, who has been board president of the embattled Southern California Rapid Transit District (RTD) for a year, and by Clark, who as mayor was censured by the City Council in 1981.
"It's interesting to hear that when Jan has done such a great job with the RTD and Tom is the only mayor in Long Beach history to receive a vote of no confidence from the council," Kell said.