Beverly Hills City Councilman Robert K. Tanenbaum has fired the opening shots in next April's City Council election, coming out against fellow council members Donna Ellman and Benjamin Stansbury even before they announced their intentions to run.
Tanenbaum, who does not face reelection until 1990, is taking early aim at his two colleagues as part of a bid to wrest control of the council from its three-member majority of Ellman, Stansbury and Maxwell H. Salter.
The April election is considered critical because three of the five seats on the council will be decided. In addition to Ellman and Stansbury, Councilwoman Charlotte Spadaro's four-year term also expires.
'We Need a Change'
"There is no doubt in my mind that we need a change, and, hopefully, by having new candidates who are electable we will have that change," Tanenbaum said.
His recent remarks caught many by surprise, because the council race is months away and the city will hold an election for the school board next month.
"It had been peaceful," Ellman said. "Bob had been going to dinner with us. We got along so well, extremely well, and then he fired his opening volley to start the 1988 campaign, declaring that he wanted to get a majority on the council. . . . It is going to be a hard-fought campaign by Bob for control of the council."
Salter also thought he had made his peace with Tanenbaum until a recent study session where the two tangled over an issue and Tanenbaum called him an "intellectual and moral cretin."
"I think it is the way he deals . . . attack, attack, attack," Salter said. "I don't know why. He is an extremely intelligent guy. . . . I'm not going to get involved in this petty nonsense. It's narrishkeit, which is Yiddish for foolishness."
Stansbury said Tanenbaum broke an unwritten rule of protocol on the council.
"There is a difference between representing a different faction and going into open warfare with your colleagues while you are sitting with them," he said.
With more than three months before the filing deadline in February, none of the incumbents have declared their intentions to run.
"How the hell do I know?" snapped Ellman. "I want to serve the remainder of my term as a council member, not as a candidate." Ellman, who is slated by seniority to be the next mayor, is expected to run for an unprecedented fourth term.
Spadaro said she has not made a decision yet, but earlier she had said that she might not run because of family considerations. Stansbury is expected to seek a third term, but he too said he would make his decision in January.
One of the reasons Tanenbaum offers for launching his early offensive is "to find candidates who are capable of winning," especially if Spadaro, his main ally on the council, decides not to run.
"I have been in the minority for as long as I have been on the council, and the thought of being the only one warms the cockles of my heart," he said with a wry grin.
Tanenbaum has differed with the majority over the cost and size of the Civic Center and the handling of the negotiations to lease the Greystone mansion to the County Museum of Natural History.
On Losing Side
Just recently the council decided against a proposal to reduce the scale of the $79-million Civic Center project to save more than $3 million. It was a proposal that Tanenbaum supported.
On Greystone, he has recently suggested that the city hold a referendum to determine whether it should lease or sell the 55-room mansion, which the city purchased in 1965 for $1.1 million.
Tanenbaum was elected in 1986 on a platform that included a proposal to sell part of the 18.8-acre estate, valued between $25 million and $40 million, and use the funds for the city's financially troubled public schools.
The battle for control of the council is not new. It dates back more than 10 years to a disagreement over a council decision to swap land with a developer who wanted to build condominiums in the industrial area near City Hall. The city ultimately was forced to reverse the trade after a group of residents filed a lawsuit, but bitter feelings have remained.
Spadaro, who was an attorney for the group of residents who blocked the land trade, was elected to the council four years ago. The same group supported Tanenbaum two years later.
Betty Harris, one of the leaders in the dispute over the industrial area and a Tanenbaum supporter, said that the planning has already begun on the next campaign. It will focus on the large debt owed by the city because of the Civic Center, she said.