LONG BEACH — Mayor Ernie Kell kicked off what appears to be an 11-month campaign to become the city's first full-time mayor by raising a record-shattering $165,000 at a dinner last week.
That amount, if accurately reported by Kell, is three times the previous single-event record of $55,000 in a local race, which he set in 1985. The $140,000 Kell said he would net after expenses is $15,000 more than has ever been spent here on a municipal campaign.
Kell and Councilwoman Jan Hall, who says she will seek the $67,500-a-year mayoralty, have said the mayor's race could cost candidates $250,000 each when it is waged citywide for the first time next spring.
520 Guests Attended
Kell reaffirmed his reputation as a potent fund-raiser by packing the new Ramada Renaissance Hotel's main ballroom with about 520 guests Wednesday evening.
The city's largest real estate developers joined civic leaders and a majority of the City Council at the salmon-and-steak dinner for which tickets cost $150, $250 or $500. "They checked the amount they wanted to contribute," Kell said of his guests.
Several large businesses checked the $500 box and bought 10 tickets for $5,000. Among those, Kell said, were IDM, developer of the World Trade Center; Kilroy Industries, which is building an office park at Long Beach Airport, and Wrather Port Properties, operator of the Queen Mary and Spruce Goose attractions.
The United Auto Workers union contributed $2,500 and the Teamsters Union also was represented. Douglas Aircraft Co., the city's largest employer, contributed $2,500, as did real estate investment company Paragon Equities, owned by Chamber of Commerce Chairwoman Elaine Hutchison. The local Firefighters Assn. gave $1,500, as did the political arm of the business group Downtown Long Beach Associates, Kell said.
No Formal Declaration
The dinner was billed as a tribute to Kell, 58, a 12-year councilman and retired real estate developer, who has not formally declared his candidacy for full-time mayor.
"It looked like a wedding to me. It didn't feel like a political party. It was like they (Kell and wife Jackie) were bride and groom," said Joel Friedland, a businessman whose family contributed $1,250.
But sometimes there also was the feel of a political rally. A red-uniformed marching band lined the staircase to the second-floor banquet room, blasting out upbeat tunes. Guests received red-white-and-blue flag pins for their lapels. Speakers' comments were sprinkled with political references.
The master of ceremonies, Harbor Commission President Robert Langslet, ended the evening by telling guests "we hope to see you all again at the victory celebration."
A Gauge of Support
Although City Auditor Robert Fronke, a possible candidate for mayor, said Kell was trying to scare potential challengers with his early money, Kell said he was only trying to gauge the "depth of support if I decide to run."
But if he were Hall or Fronke, Kell added, the money raised last week would be a serious consideration in weighing chances for a successful campaign.
However, Hall, who has had the strong backing of Gov. George Deukmejian in City Council races, said she expects to at least match Kell's fund raising. A three-term councilwoman, she set the current local spending record of $125,000 in winning reelection in her affluent 3rd District last year.
"I suspect some of the same people were at my ($45-a-plate) fund-raiser in January, . . . and will be at my fund-raiser in July," said Hall, who plans to formally announce her candidacy in the fall. "Remember, this was not a fund-raiser for mayor. It was a tribute. There is a possibility that once you have declared candidates, there will be a different composition (at fund-raisers)."
Some guests at Kell's dinner agreed.
"Frankly, it's going to be a difficult decision for a lot of people, . . . since both of them have strongly supported our industry," said builder Larry Agajanian. "I'm going to pay my respects to both of them at this point, but remain uncommitted until I have a chance to listen to more of their views."
Office Not Established
Fronke said he is confident that he can raise enough money to wage an effective grass-roots campaign, but he said $250,000 is not necessary.
"I think the real question is why is so much being given for a race that's still a year away and for an office that has not been established and has little clout? . . . (Developers) certainly have some sort of financial interest in both a council person and a sitting mayor and in the future mayor," Fronke said.
Until the job becomes full time next June, the mayor, who is now selected by City Council colleagues, has no more inherent power than other council members except for appointment of city commissioners. Even a full-time mayor will be relatively weak, lacking a vote on the council and possessing a veto that can be overridden by a simple council majority.