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ELECTION PERSPECTIVE: LOOKING AHEAD : Kell, Hall Thrust Into Runoff Battle

April 14, 1988|CHRIS WOODYARD | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Mayor Ernie Kell ran in two races this week.

One was against Jan Hall, Luanne Pryor and six others in Tuesday's primary election to become full-time, citywide-elected mayor. He easily outdistanced them.

But even more important was his personal contest against the 50% mark he needed to avoid a runoff. He lost that race.

Kell, seeking to turn his part-time, appointive position into a full-time job, is thrust into the June 7 runoff against Hall that may be short on issues and long on smoldering animosity.

Both candidates stressed personal strengths and downplayed issues during the primary. And both annoyed each other with last-minute mailers that they say included unfair attacks that left them with no time to respond.

For Kell, the primary results came as a blow. He had set out to win the race in a single shot with the backing of big endorsements, big money and an army of volunteers.

He nevertheless called the primary a "clear-cut victory" in which he carried every council district.

For Hall, the runoff offers another chance for a campaign bedeviled by early problems of management and money. While she appeared back on track in the final weeks, Hall beat Pryor by the slimmest of margins--744 votes out of 25,590 cast between them.

Rather than explaining why Pryor came so close to beating her, Hall was more content to set her sights on Kell. His failure to win a clear majority "shows he's weak," she said. "I think that is an indictment of the incumbent mayor that (indicates) things aren't OK under his leadership."

In her first election bid, Pryor waged a surprisingly strong challenge based on a patchwork coalition of voters disillusioned with the City Hall power structure. She had claimed in her campaign that there is disenchantment with the city's growth and development policies.

Pryor said her strong showing is proof to Kell and Hall that they need to address issues rather than personalities.

"Ernie and Jan both are going to have to dig awfully deep. They can't run a surface campaign. They are going to have to look at the issues and address them," Pryor said.

Kell ended up with 42.8% of the vote, Hall had 24.9% and Pryor had 23.5%.

The rest of the field was left far behind. Thomas (Ski) Demski, who campaigned with a parrot on his shoulder, ran a very distant fourth with 3.4%. None of the others managed more than 2.5% of the vote.

Kell spent more than $332,454 through the end of last month. That works out to $14.68 per vote. Hall spent $264,625, or about $20 a vote. Pryor spent $44,572, or about $3.50 a vote.

Pryor said the fact that she almost beat Hall while spending so much less indicates the need for campaign finance reform. She has consistently criticized spending in the race, the most expensive in the city's history.

Kell predicted he will need to raise at least $200,000 more for the runoff. Hall said she was not sure how much the race would cost.

Although the mayor's race is nonpartisan, Kell and Hall have both looked for support from their respective party's traditional bastions. Kell, a Democrat, has counted on strong labor backing. Hall brought in fellow Long Beach Republicans Gov. George Deukmejian and U.S. Rep. Daniel E. Lungren for fund raising and mailers.

In the runoff, Kell could receive a boost from fellow Democrats flocking to the polls to cast ballots in their party's presidential preference contest. With Vice President George Bush having the GOP presidential nomination virtually locked up, fewer Republicans may turn out to support Jan Hall.

Those extra votes could prove crucial. Kell blames his failure to avoid a runoff on the low, 31.4% voter turnout.

"If we had a higher turnout we definitely would have gone over the top," he said. Kell campaign manager Rose King said the mayor would have comfortably reached a plurality if there had been a 40% turnout.

Kell said he will conduct the runoff in the same folksy manner as the primary, which was characterized by pancake breakfasts and police-firefighter softball games.

Hall's camp plans to come out fighting.

"We would like to debate, debate, debate. We want to debate him five times," said Hall's campaign adviser, Robert Gouty.

Kell spokesman Jeffrey Adler said on Election Night that the campaign is not yet ready to commit to any debates. Gouty said the mayor will try to avoid debates.

"He does not want to stand up and go eyeball-to-eyeball with Jan Hall," Gouty said. "He's got a short fuse and he'll go crazy (in a debate.) I guarantee you he won't do it."

Also in question is how much support the candidates can pick up from the remains of Pryor's campaign.

As a Democrat, Kell might try to woo backing from members of the left-leaning Long Beach Area Citizens Involved that supported Pryor, if not the organization itself.

Sapped Votes

Asked if Kell would have won the primary if Pryor had not entered the race, King replied, "No doubt about it." Pryor, she said, sapped enough votes from Kell to keep him below a majority.

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