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'Sometimes I think it is important to take a setback. It makes you a stronger person.'

April 30, 1987|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

Serving people has always helped Alex Beanum rest easy. But the former Cerritos councilman--who lost a rigorous reelection fight a year ago--has been a bit restless lately, and that explains why he is acting more like a candidate than a private citizen.

"You sleep good at night when you think you've been effective and done something right," Beanum said. "I miss that feeling . . . the chance to solve people's problems."

A year after his bid for a third council term fell tantalizingly short, Beanum, 51, is back in the political trenches, coordinating Democrat Cecil Green's state Senate campaign in Cerritos. In a recent interview, Beanum said his next step may be to run for the Cerritos City Council in April, 1988. "It is a strong possibility," he said.

Beanum, the only black elected to the council in the city's 30-year history, does not consider this a comeback. But others do.

The civil engineer was given up as politically finished a year ago when he outspent 14 other council candidates, yet failed to capture one of three contested seats. He finished fourth, 169 votes behind incumbent Barry A. Rabbitt. Beanum spent a record $32,609 in hope of winning reelection, but he left City Hall on election night a loser. Some predicted that the "Beanum era" in Cerritos was over.

"It was a tremendous emotional loss," the 18-year resident acknowledged. "I'd be crazy if I said I didn't miss it. I miss the job . . . Losing was tough, real tough."

Loss Soured Him on Political Process

Beanum has rebounded, however, appearing in recent months at city functions as well as several council meetings. He is smiling and shaking hands again, much like a candidate on the stump. It is a sharp reversal from a year ago when he retreated from the political scene after an election that Beanum said soured him on the process. Supporters contend that Beanum was the victim of a smear campaign by some opponents who made an issue of his race and driving record.

Beanum has been in two traffic accidents since May, 1980, and both times he was behind the wheel. The first left him a paraplegic, and the second injured six people, although he escaped unhurt. Beanum was not charged with drunken driving; nevertheless stories circulated during last year's campaign that he had been drinking before the accidents. Beanum denied the allegations, and chose to focus on issues instead.

He now concedes that the "whisper campaign" waged against him was probably the difference at the polls.

"I knew it was happening, but I tried to stay as positive as possible," Beanum said. "I wish it would not have happened because it probably cost me two or three votes a precinct, and that was the margin (of defeat) . . . But I told my people to concentrate on the issues, not the negative."

Beanum is well aware that should he run again next April he could be the target of the same tactics. But he believes he has the support to overcome it. Since his defeat, Beanum said dozens of people, even strangers, have urged him to run again.

"I've been in five political campaigns in my life, and never has this happened before. They come and say, 'there is something missing without you on the council.' It's flattering."

Prop. H Passage Was to His Advantage

Beanum's chances of winning reelection were improved with the passage last November of a ballot measure that he opposed. City voters insured that there will be two open seats next April when they approved Proposition H--a measure that prevents council members from serving more than two consecutive four-year terms. Current council members Daniel K. Wong and Don Knabe, both in their second terms, will be forced out.

Although he opposed the two-term limit, Beanum now thinks the measure will be to his advantage because he will be the closest thing to an incumbent in the race.

"I would be running as a known quantity . . . ," he said. "It wouldn't be a question of whether I was qualified. People already know that I am."

If there are any doubts about how much public life means to Beanum, just walk into the lobby of his Cerritos office.

On the walls are two dozen plaques from cities, the county and numerous civic groups recognizing Beanum for his years as an elected official or employee in the public sector. Married with two children, Beanum was public works director in Compton and then Lakewood before opening his own engineering consulting business in 1978, the year he was elected to the Cerritos council.

Saying it is a "strong possibility" that he will run for the council next April, Beanum said it will depend on his health and how the field of candidates shapes up. He said he is in good health, but admitted that campaigning is difficult--and strenuous--for someone confined to a wheelchair. Unable to visit many precincts because of his disability, Beanum said he was forced to spend more money than his opponents to spread his message by mail.

Still, he fell short of votes last April, an outcome he now believes may pay dividends in the future.

"Sometimes I think it is important to take a setback," he said. "It makes you a stronger person. You appreciate what you had."

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