SAN DIMAS — After spending 12 years on the City Council, Terry Dipple thought the time was right to make another run for mayor.
Popular incumbent Mayor Don Haefer, who had twice run unopposed, announced that he would not be seeking reelection. Curt Morris, a councilman with six years' tenure, expressed no desire to run for the office.
It seemed likely that Dipple, 35, who lost the 1982 mayoral race by 26 votes, would be able to run in the April 12 election without having to face a well-known, experienced opponent.
But Sandy McHenry, another of Dipple's council colleagues, said he didn't like that idea. McHenry, 39, a former planning commissioner elected to the City Council in 1986, said voters should be able to choose between two experienced candidates.
"It didn't necessarily make sense for someone to run unopposed and get a free ride," McHenry said. "I don't think that's what the voters had in mind when they decided to have a direct election for mayor. I don't think they wanted any back-room deals by the council."
McHenry made his intentions known in January with prominent ads in local newspapers. Dipple made his displeasure known in no uncertain terms.
"For me, the election is all or nothing," Dipple said. "I'm at the end of my council term, as opposed to Sandy McHenry, who has a free ride. He has two years left in his term. He's going to be on the council no matter what. The way I look at it, it takes a lot more courage to run for mayor when you're at the end of your term."
Also running for mayor on the April 12 ballot is Crescentia Bracci, who ran unsuccessfully for the council in 1982. Bracci, 44, has stayed out of the fray between the two councilmen, and both Dipple and McHenry said they regard the mayoral campaign as a two-man race.
McHenry has accused Dipple of trying to strike a bargain with him to persuade him not to run.
"He suggested that I not run and that he would support me if I ran later on," McHenry said. "I told him that back-room deal-making is not my style. I believe in doing business under the bright lights so that everyone can see what you're doing."
Dipple said he was surprised that McHenry was running for mayor, claiming that two years ago McHenry had urged him to run against Haefer. Dipple said he had agreed with Haefer not to run for mayor in 1986, but denied trying to make a similar arrangement with McHenry.
"There was no deal," Dipple said. "I think I might have told him that he had been on the council a short time and that I didn't want to be mayor forever. I wanted the opportunity to serve perhaps a term or two and then retire from the City Council."
The personal enmity between Dipple and McHenry is the most contentious aspect of this year's campaign, in which there is widespread agreement on the key issues.
The three mayoral candidates all favor controlled development and oppose the county's plans to build a large hotel and recreational complex at Frank G. Bonelli Park.
The race for the two open council seats, in which incumbent Morris faces challengers Denis Bertone and Ed Jones, is also free of any deep philosophical rifts.
The overriding issue is not whether the city should pursue slow-growth policies but which candidate can best maintain controlled development in San Dimas and preserve the community's unique appearance.
Bounded on the north and south by the Foothill and San Bernardino freeways, this city of 29,000 has sought to distinguish itself from neighboring communities such as Pomona, La Verne and Glendora by cultivating an Old West image.
Downtown commercial developments must conform to a "frontier" motif. Bonita Avenue, the city's primary thoroughfare, has been fashioned to resemble the main street of a 19th-Century Western town, complete with wooden sidewalks. Many of the upscale housing tracts constructed on the outskirts of town feature equestrian trails.
A survey of the candidates disclosed a striking similarity in ideas, with most of the debate centering on questions of experience, personal style and long-range vision of the city's future.
Bracci acknowledged that she lacks the council experience and name recognition of the other mayoral candidates and said she has no major disagreements with the way the current council has been running the city. But Bracci, who conducts personal growth seminars, said her positive perspective would be a valuable addition to the council.
"I believe the thing I can bring personally is new blood," she said. "I have lots of fresh ideas. . . . I'm a visionary, and I think I can offer them visions into areas where they wouldn't think to tread. I always want to look for that win-win situation."
Bracci said she tries to teach people who attend her seminars to "strategize," or prepare a plan of action for the future. City officials could gain by taking a similarly far-sighted approach, she said.
"We've kind of run things by the seat of the pants as each issue has come up and have not really done a lot of long-range planning," she said.