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Kell Wins Big in Mayor's Race but Has Work Cut Out for Him on Council

June 09, 1988|ROXANA KOPETMAN and CHRIS WOODYARD | Times Staff Writers

LONG BEACH — Ernie Kell may find that getting elected was the easy part.

Now, as a full-time, paid mayor with relatively weak powers, he faces the task of rebuilding his coalition on a reshuffled City Council.

His first test may come when he tries to persuade the council to implement his double campaign promises of creating an Office of Education and an Office of Neighborhood and Historical Preservation. Council members say they are sympathetic but unpersuaded.

Kell, who has held the ceremonial mayor's job since 1984, trounced Councilwoman Jan Hall with 60% of the vote Tuesday to win the full-time job. He will be paid $67,500 a year.

"We won by a landslide," Kell, 59, declared early Wednesday morning. "I'm pleased that the residents of the city have elected me to carry out their programs and dreams."

Hall, 45, described Kell as "a fraud." She said she will be watching Kell's handling of the mayor's job "very carefully" with an eye toward 1990, the next mayoral contest.

Although the winner, Kell has in reality lost some power. He will lose his vote on the council, and his new mayoral veto can be overridden by a simple majority in most cases. Meanwhile, Hall remains on the council and has a vote.

Despite the limitations, Kell will have a chance to shape the position to fit his personal style. He is considered a master of behind-the-scenes maneuvering.

He will have a few of his old friends on the council, but he will have to make some new ones as well.

For starters, he will vacate his District 5 council seat to take office as mayor July 19. The council will decide whether to order a special election or wait until the November general election.

And it remains to be seen whether drilling company executive Jeff Kellogg, who beat real estate broker Pat Schauer 58% to 42% for the District 8 seat, will fall into Kell's camp or Hall's, or chart his own course.

Kellogg, who touts himself as an independent in the City Hall power struggle, was endorsed by supporters of both Hall and Kell.

Early Wednesday morning, as he declared victory with barely half of his district's precincts reporting, Kellogg pledged to be "a catalyst for change" in the city.

Vice Mayor Warren Harwood, a strong Kell supporter who endorsed Kellogg, said he expects the new councilman to go along with the mayor in exchange for backing on issues in Kellogg's district, which includes the Carmelitos housing project and the Bixby Knolls and California Heights neighborhoods.

But Councilman Tom Clark, a political foe of Kell, said "it's hard to tell" where Kellogg will fit in. Clark, who also backed Kellogg, said he expects Kellogg to be more independent than the councilman he replaces, Edd Tuttle. Tuttle, who didn't run for reelection, was considered one of Kell's core of supporters.

Until now, Kell has generally been able to count on support from Harwood and Tuttle, and less often from Wallace Edgerton, Clarence Smith and Ray Grabinski.

Will the balance of power shift on the nine-member council? Harwood says no, but his colleagues expect things to change.

Councilman Evan Anderson Braude said much depends on whether Kell can make allies of Kellogg and Kell's successor in District 5.

Grabinski said the mayor's grip on the council is not as strong as some perceive. Now that the mayor is elected, the loose coalition could deteriorate because there will no longer be a struggle within the council or a building of allegiances to appoint a mayor, he said.

Clark said the answer may lie in whether Kell changes his political style.

"A lot depends on whether Kell can grow into the office; if he can operate as a leader," Clark said. Kell's critics have said the mayor isn't charismatic or visionary and has few proposals of his own. Instead, his strength lies in implementing other people's programs.

"Is he going to make any proposals? Is he going to lead the council? Is he going to take positions? If the past is characteristic, then the answer is no," Clark said.

Kell was not entirely without proposals during the campaign, though he tried to emphasize his experience and accomplishments far more than laying out any grand vision of the city's future.

He called for creation of two new city offices--but never talked much about how to pay for them.

The proposed Office of Education would coordinate anti-gang and anti-drug activities with the Long Beach Unified School District. The Office of Neighborhood and Historical Preservation would answer residents' questions about new developments and plan ways of saving the handful of historic buildings remaining in the city.

Want More Details

Most council members generally say they like Kell's concepts, but they want more details, especially about cost, before deciding. Some council members also say the proposals overlap programs already in place. The city's Cultural Heritage Commission, for example, is charged with protecting landmarks.

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