LONG BEACH — Mayor Ernie Kell has capitalized on his name recognition and his association with the rebuilding of downtown to forge a commanding lead over Councilwoman Jan Hall in the race for citywide elected mayor, a Los Angeles Times Poll has found.
Striving to shed his figurehead appointive title and move into the newly created full-time mayor's job, Kell also has been far more successful than Hall in picking up support from voters who backed Luanne Pryor in last month's primary election. Pryor, with a strong third-place finish as a proponent of controlled growth, nearly beat Hall for a runoff berth.
Among voters considered most likely to cast ballots in the June 7 election, 63% favor Kell while 29% favor Hall. The remainder are undecided, according to poll figures based on a turnout of 40%, which is typical for elections held in tandem with the presidential primary.
Voters, at the same time, do not see much difference between the two candidates, according to the poll. Both officials are viewed in a generally favorable light, although Kell by a larger margin. And voters for both candidates expressed virtually identical concerns about the issues--crime, drugs and gangs being chief among them.
"There is a lot of random choosing" by voters, said I.A. Lewis, director of the Times Poll. "Neither of (the two candidates) looks very dramatic."
Still, Democrat Kell garners more support from his own political party than Republican Hall does from hers in the nonpartisan campaign. Hall does better among women voters and Kell does better among men.
The Times Poll, conducted Sunday, was developed through random telephone calls placed to 621 Long Beach residents. Questions concerning the mayor's race were asked of the 339 who identified themselves as registered voters and said they will probably or certainly cast ballots in the race. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 5%.
Of all voters sampled--not just those considered most likely to actually turn out--Kell still posted a commanding if narrower lead over Hall, 44% to 29%, with more than one out of four either undecided or refusing to say whom they would support. However, poll experts say the responses from firmly committed voters alone more accurately measure what Kell's victory margin would have been had the balloting been conducted Sunday.
Kell, a retired developer who has held his East Long Beach council seat since 1975 and the appointive mayor's post since 1984, is better known and better liked, according to the poll.
He is viewed favorably by 56% of the voters sampled, contrasted to 16% who view him unfavorably. One out of four said they either did not know enough about Kell to voice an opinion or are not sure how they view him.
Hall's favorable rating was 41%, contrasted to an unfavorable rating of 20%. Two out of five voters said they do not know her well enough or are unsure of their view.
Some voters also indicated that they are backing one candidate primarily because they dislike the other.
For example, poll participant Gail Luhmann, a designer and caterer, said she does not believe that Kell would do the best job as mayor.
High school counselor Diane Jordan said she believes Hall is too tied to special interests, so she is supporting Kell. But she said she did not know enough about Kell to explain why she prefers him.
Hall, who represents the Belmont Shore and Belmont Heights areas, said she is not surprised by those findings because over the years, she has been unafraid to take tough stands on issues that make enemies as well as friends. "If you stick your head out of the trenches, someone is going to take a shot at you," she said.
Kell's supporters in the poll tend to be stronger backers of a revitalized downtown. Three out of four favor downtown redevelopment. Among Hall voters, by comparison, better than two out of four favor the downtown alterations.
Kell said he is pleased to be associated with downtown redevelopment, which he said has brought first-class hotels and created jobs for local people.
While the race for mayor is nonpartisan, both candidates make no secret of their party affiliations. Kell has won the endorsement of labor unions. Hall has called in two Long Beach GOP favorite sons, Gov. George Deukmejian and Rep. Daniel E. Lungren, for fund-raising and direct-mail endorsements.
Both of the candidates win among members of their own parties. Kell, however, has a more loyal following of Democrats than Hall does of Republicans. Democrats in the poll back Kell by a 52% margin compared to Hall's 24%. Republicans support Hall by 38% compared to Kell's 34%.
A cornerstone of Kell's margin over Hall is that even as a booster of downtown redevelopment he has managed to attract 60% of the voters who said they supported Democrat Pryor in the primary. Hall garnered 17% of the Pryor voters. Nearly one out of four Pryor voters said they are still undecided.