AZUSA — Mayor Eugene Moses and two allies ran roughshod over their opponents in Tuesday's election, ushering in what they say will be a new era of harmony in a city known for its fractious politics.
In a rematch of the 1984 mayoral race, Moses easily fended off a challenge by Councilman Bruce Latta to win his fourth consecutive term as mayor.
And Moses' victory went beyond winning another two-year term. Two candidates he supported, Harry Stemrich and Tony Naranjo, beat Councilmen James Cook and Lucio Cruz.
Cook and Cruz--who finished fourth and fifth in a field of seven--have often formed a council majority with Latta in opposing Moses. Latta will remain on the council, since his term has two more years to run.
Moses, 54, viewed the victory as a mandate from the voters and a backlash against the council majority.
"I think people are fed up and decided to choose between the two factions in this election," he said. "I'm very proud of the citizens of Azusa for making up their minds.
"This was the showdown."
Returns showed that Moses got 2,182 votes, or 60% of those cast, to Latta's 1,452, or 40%. After waging a vigorous campaign, Latta won only two of the city's 12 precincts in an election that brought out 29% of the eligible voters.
"Frankly, it surprised me," Latta said. "The voters chose the leadership they want. We kept hearing from people it was time for a change. I guess we misinterpreted that."
However, Latta, who campaigned on a theme of unity, said he would work with the new council: "I can work with these guys. They are four of them who are strongly aligned politically. I'm not going to sit up there and be a thorn in their side. Nor will I be a rubber stamp for what they do."
In the council race, Stemrich topped the field with 1,580 votes, or 23.4% of those cast, and Naranjo finished second with 1,280, or 18%. Mike Falletta, a city planning commissioner, finished third with 1,014, or 15%, followed by Cook with 996, or 14.7%; Cruz with 811, or 12%; real estate agent Conrad Bituin with 622, or 9.3%, and businessman Todd Baker with 457, or 6.8%.
Cook said neither Naranjo nor Stemrich could claim a mandate because neither got more than 50% of the vote. Cook, who was first elected in 1983, said he would concentrate on his bid for the Democratic nomination for the 25th District state Senate seat.
Voters also approved a ballot measure that reaffirms the zoning of the Azusa Greens Country Club for recreational use only. Six months ago, voters rejected two initiatives sponsored by golf course owner Johnny E. Johnson that would have authorized the city to purchase the course for $26 million or rezoned the area for development.
The zoning measure was favored by 2,338 voters, or 73.2%.
A ballot measure increasing the city's excavation tax--the charge it levies on the extraction and processing of rock--was approved by a smaller margin. The tax per ton of rock will rise from 6 to 8.8 cents. The measure was favored by 2,294 voters, or 69.1%.
Unity was a central theme in the election, with both sides claiming that they would end the infighting on the council. Moses, who repeatedly urged voters to "give me a council I can work with," said he got just that Tuesday.
"We can now have harmony on the council and put our energy into what counts," he said. "I see no reason why the city of Azusa cannot make progress."
Moses, who has long billed himself as "the people's mayor," has blamed Latta, Cook and Cruz for standing in the way of his efforts to revitalize the downtown area and help the city compete with its neighbors for commercial and retail developments.
Running under a slate called Azusans for a Better Community, Moses, Stemrich and Naranjo promised to end the infighting that has long marked city politics.
Conflict between Moses and the bloc of Latta, Cruz and Cook reached a peak in 1986, when the council approved a resolution that curtailed the mayor's power and barred him from raiding the employees' refrigerator at City Hall.
At the time, Latta said the measure was needed because Moses had run amok. The measure was repealed in January, Latta said then, to clear the air and deny Moses a campaign issue.
Latta, 37, was backed by United We Stand, a group that sought changes in city government and was unhappy with Moses' tenure as mayor.
The three winners said Tuesday that they expect to make substantial changes.
"Some of the staff is going to be leaving," said Stemrich, a 57-year-old construction photographer. But none of the winners would say whose jobs might be in jeopardy.
Stemrich said a house-cleaning is in order to correct problems with budget priorities, stalled redevelopment projects and reliance on outside consultants.