When Mike Antonovich took office eight years ago, his election helped wrest control of Los Angeles County's Board of Supervisors away from a liberal majority and shifted it to the political conservatives who would go on to run county politics for most of this decade.
In ousting incumbent Baxter Ward, Antonovich also seemed to spell the political end for a two-term supervisor whose eccentricities and muckraking reputation in public office had angered some of his colleagues and labeled him as the board iconoclast.
But after Tuesday's primary election, Antonovich--now himself a two-term incumbent in the 5th Supervisorial District--finds himself in a November rematch against Ward, who has won a round in an attempted political comeback. Despite running a shoestring campaign that relied largely on his name identification, Ward was the top finisher among a field of nine Antonovich rivals all challenging his pro-development record.
Fails to Get Majority
Voters kept Antonovich from claiming victory Tuesday by denying him the more than 50% majority that he needed for victory.
Ward, a former television newscaster, received 22.4% of the vote--and less than half of the Antonovich vote total--but it was enough to set up the runoff in November between the two old rivals.
With Supervisors Deane Dana and Kenneth Hahn easily winning reelection Tuesday, the 5th District race is the only supervisorial contest that remains undecided. Its outcome will determine the fate of the conservative political base on the board that has been built by Antonovich, Dana and Supervisor Pete Schabarum.
"If Baxter Ward wins, this will change the whole balance of power on the board," said Hahn, who along with Supervisor Ed Edelman represent a minority of political liberals.
The question, however, remains whether the 68-year-old Ward, who shunned campaign contributions and volunteer help, can unseat an incumbent who reported spending $1.1 million in the primary.
In contrast to Antonovich's massive fund raising, Ward said Wednesday that he spent no more than $700 for gas, phone bills and lunches. His biggest expense, he recalled ruefully, was the $53 parking ticket he received while talking to the Los Angeles Herald Examiner's editorial board. But he expressed confidence that he could overcome the difference in money during the runoff.
"The issues this time really will overwhelm the expenditures, at least I hope that's the case," Ward told reporters at a news conference in Woodland Hills.
Ward, in a departure from his previous campaigns, said he was abandoning his unorthodox strategy of spurning endorsements and campaign contributions. Ward said he will accept donations of $250 or less and hopes to open a campaign office, hire staff and advertise through radio and television.
Don Wallace, a Los Angeles city firefighter who finished a close third behind Ward, said the slow-growth coalition of other candidates and supporters will meet soon to decide what role they should play in the election.
"I think everybody in the coalition will vote for him," Wallace said of Ward. "I don't know what level of support everybody will give. He remained aloof from the coalition. I presume he will at some point ask for some help. I don't know what he will do. I wish he would tell us what he will do."
Organized labor, which played a vital role in Wallace's campaign and which could pour money and manpower into the runoff campaign, is also taking a wait-and-see attitude toward Ward.
"We would never support Antonovich, but the jury is out on whether to support Ward," said William Robertson, executive secretary of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, who questioned whether Ward was "pragmatic" enough to accept political support and give those backers some accessibility to him.
Whether he gets labor support or not, Ward said he intends to pound away at Antonovich's growth record during the next five months, similar to the coalition candidates who blame Antonovich for overseeing a rapid buildup of tract homes in the unincorporated areas.
Development Record Defended
In defending his development record, Antonovich said he does not expect that to hurt him in the runoff. Instead, he blamed his failure to win Tuesday on a low turnout of Republican voters who did not go to the polls because there were no contested presidential or senatorial contests.
"Things will be different in November," he said. "I expect to win with about 55% of the vote."
Antonovich, who debated his opponents only once during the primary, also said he will welcome a series of public debates with Ward.
"Now that it's down to a two-man race, we have an opportunity to discuss issues," he said. "But if Ward becomes eccentric and engages in character assassination, we'll be able to contrast that to the voters."