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Despite Hired Aides, L. B. Mayoral Contest Retains Small-Town Flavor

February 18, 1988|CHRIS WOODYARD | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — The sunny scene last Saturday morning in Wardlow Park typified traditional Long Beach political campaigning right down to the bright blue balloons and antique auto on display.

Mayor Ernie Kell, whose brown suit and paisley tie provided a startling contrast to the sea of sport shirts, shorts and United Auto Workers jackets, glad-handed potential supporters who showed up for his outdoor pancake breakfast.

At one point, one of the professional campaign aides ran over to Kell. He said a local press photographer wanted to snap a picture of Kell hovering over the sizzling griddle. Take off your sunglasses, the aide implored the mayor, and step right to the front of the line.

Off came the sunglasses, but Kell protested that he did not want to cut in line. He wanted to stand at the end in deference to all of the hungry people patiently waiting for a plateful of free pancakes.

At the aide's insistence, Kell cut in front anyway.

While the city's first race for full-time mayor has attracted seasoned advisers and handlers, the front-runners are still largely trying to stick to their own homespun campaign styles. Despite the big-city slickness, the campaign for mayor in the April 12 primary election has a small-town flavor.

Kell, a 5th District councilman appointed in 1984 to the largely ceremonial post of mayor, and Councilwoman Jan Hall say they are going to win the race for full-time mayor with the same personal approach that won them their district seats--only on a grander scale. That means ringing a lot of doorbells, eating a lot of pancakes and, as Hall did Saturday in West Long Beach, taking a turn on the dance floor with elderly Filipino-Americans.

Despite having to carry their message far and wide across a diverse Long Beach, Kell's advisers seem to generally accept their candidate's personal approach. Rose McFarland King, whose Sacramento-based Directions firm is handling the Kell campaign, said the mayor will not do "anything different than he's done before" to win votes.

Despite having by far the largest political war chest, the Kell campaign at full speed is expected to have the look and feel of a council race. Lawn signs, but no billboards. Direct mailers, but no radio or television ads.

Appealing to appetites if not voters, Kell plans to hold five Saturday pancake breakfasts and a series of weenie roasts and coffee-and-muffin breakfasts throughout the city.

Hall had a prestigious consulting firm directing her campaign--the Dolphin Group, which helped pilot Gov. George Deukmejian to victory as attorney general in 1978 and governor in 1982. But the firm left the campaign about three weeks ago.

Group Replaced

Hall said she is now personally directing her own campaign from a blueprint laid out by the Dolphin Group. She has replaced the group with veteran political adviser Robert Gouty. He said Hall will choose between two primary strategies in the next two weeks or so when they receive the results of a new poll.

Hall's primary means of raising money and volunteers has been supporter-hosted kaffeeklatsches that suit her predominant theme of nostalgia for the pre-growth Long Beach of the 1950s and 1960s, of her commitment to preserving suburbia and her local roots.

And public relations executive Luanne Pryor, thought to be with Kell and Hall in the top tier of the nine-candidate race, has mapped out a strategy based on fighting the City Hall establishment. That means Kell and Hall in particular. She has concentrated her precinct walking on the central Long Beach neighborhoods where she believes her opposition to "overdevelopment" will play well.

While Kell and Pryor are Democrats and Hall is a Republican, party affiliations have not taken an overt role in the race. But party ties are not that far below the surface. Kell's and Hall's campaign firms generally only work for candidates of their respective parties.

Of the major candidates, Kell has created the largest role for professional political advisers. King, who directs the overall operations, said four paid staffers direct volunteers. Kell has also hired an Orange County-based press aide, Jeffrey Adler.

Even though Kell is still taking a leading role in his campaign, he is still a little uncomfortable with having advisers on his arm, as seen by the pancake photograph incident.

"Ernie Kell has run his own campaigns for 13 years," King said. "This is definitely a different level of campaigning than he's accustomed to."

King said she started her career working for the late Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh for $50 a week when he unsuccessfully challenged then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970. She also has long and close ties to Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy, most recently serving as his campaign manager last year.

Since founding Directions in 1982, King's firm is best known locally for directing state Sen. Cecil Green (D-Norwalk) in his successful runoff race last year against Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk).

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