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19 Votes May Spell Victory for a Mayor

November 05, 1987|LYNN SMITH | Times Staff Writer

Rain dripped down the Harbor Boulevard sign announcing "Insurance brokerage. Real Estate. Income Tax." And in smaller type: "Attorney. Notary. Esperanto Association."

Inside, J. Tilman Williams, a man sporting a red bow tie, white patent-leather shoes and a big grin, waved a paper with Tuesday's Garden Grove election results. They show he apparently gained another title--mayor--by 19 votes.

'Landslide' Victory

"Ain't this a hell of a landslide?" said Williams, 62, his eyebrows rising and falling like the rhinestone cat clock on the office wall.

Friends make the difference in close elections, Williams said.

"I got a lot of friends," he said. "A lot of friends.

"When it's that close," he added, "everyone knows they got you in and they know you owe 'em all."

City voters cast 8,183 votes Tuesday for eight mayoral candidates. In the first unofficial tally, just 77 votes separated the top four candidates: Williams, who received 1,652; City Councilman Milton Krieger with 1,633; Councilman Robert F. Dinsen with 1,632 and Walt Donovan with 1,575.

The first runner-up, Krieger, said he did not know yet whether he would demand a recount. First, he said, he will ask the county registrar of voters to investigate a reported irregularity--that one of the precincts was closed during voting hours. The other candidates were unavailable for comment.

Moreover, absentee ballots--including an unknown number from Garden Grove--have yet to be tallied in the official results. The counting could be completed today.

Williams has been mayor before, in 1976-78. He still carries an old special sheriff's badge in his wallet to remind him. He also ran for the state Senate in 1982 but doesn't like to think about it much. He came in "fourth or fifth."

He was reelected to the City Council but quit in 1984 "to make money," he said.

This time, although his wife, Sally, opposed it, his friends persuaded him to seek the mayoral post vacated by Jonathon Cannon when he was appointed to the West Municipal Court.

One of Williams' favorite campaign techniques is to tell voters he is both liberal and conservative. "I say, 'I'm conservative with my money, but liberal with yours,' " he said, beaming.

"You say it with a smile on your face and away you go."

Few voters seemed to care that Williams pleaded no contest to a charge of battery 10 years ago, he said. In that case, he said, he punched one of his employees in the nose when the employee refused to return the office keys after being fired.

"Some people liked that," he said.

In this election, he said, he and his friends were keenly aware that every vote would count. On Election Night, he said, one friend went around asking everybody whether they had voted yet. "One guy said, 'All politicians are the same.' So my buddy says, 'If all politicians are the same, go vote for my friend Williams.' "

A 19-vote margin is not the closest race in county history, according to historian Jim Sleeper. On Nov. 8, 1938, David Fairbairn was declared the winner as justice of the peace for the Orange Justice Court by an eight-vote margin over the incumbent, Cal D. Lester. Lester called for a recount.

Marks on absentee ballots determined the race, Sleeper said. But when the counting was done, Fairbairn was declared the winner. His margin: one vote.

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