LONG BEACH — For weeks, several City Council members had invited each other to lunch, chatted on the telephone and confronted each other at various points in City Hall to discuss one thing: Who would be this city's next vice mayor.
Out of eight members, at least five wanted the job. And most wanted it badly.
Councilman Wallace Edgerton got the honors on Tuesday, but not before two of his colleagues were also nominated. The selection ended a scramble that had, at least temporarily, diverted the attention of council members from some of the more serious issues facing Long Beach government.
Councilman Ray Grabinski called it "a love feast" as the candidates reminded each other of "who owed who what" and how " 'I've always tried to be supportive of you (and) I thought we got along together.' "
Prestige in Post
Although it is a largely ceremonial post, the vice mayor title could bring valuable prestige at reelection time, especially if the holder choses to enter the citywide mayoral race. The vice mayor also presides over the council when the mayor is absent.
How do you lobby someone who is simultaneously lobbying you for the same job?
"A lot of it is comical, really," Grabinski said. "It's like five people playing poker, and all five having aces. They're all trying to keep their poker faces when they're all sure they're going to win."
But when the time came to vote, they found out who had a winning hand and who was bluffing.
Councilwoman Jan Hall began by nominating her longtime ally Tom Clark; the current vice mayor, Warren Harwood, nominated Clarence Smith, and newcomer Jeff Kellogg, who was sworn into office only minutes before, nominated Edgerton.
Clark lost on a 3-4 vote--Hall and Kellogg voted for Clark, who voted for himself. Smith lost on a 5-2 vote--only Harwood voted for Smith, who voted for himself. Then, on the third ballot, council members elected Edgerton 4 to 3--Hall, Clark and Kellogg voted for Edgerton, who voted for himself, while Harwood, Grabinski and Smith voted against him.
No Vote by Mayor
Mayor Ernie Kell, sworn in Tuesday as the city's new full-time mayor, sat silently by because his new position does not carry a vote. Councilman Evan Anderson Braude was out of town and Kell's former seat in District 5 is vacant.
Braude, Clark, Edgerton, Grabinski and Smith let their fellow members know weeks, if not months, ago that they wanted the job.
In some cases, Grabinski said, the lobbying became so intense that several council members told him they were "it" so he may as well drop out of the race.
Smith encountered the same situation.
"Some of them say they have the votes, but they don't," Smith said prior to the council meeting. "I say 'Who are your votes?' And they don't indicate . . . Well, the fact is that each one I've talk to is running himself."
Hall said after the meeting that she was the only member not interested in the post. "I have two years left to represent my district and that's a big job," said the council's only woman, who lost in her bid for mayor last spring against Kell.
Edgerton, a 13-year council member who served as vice mayor from 1984 to 1986, believes that the vice mayor's job can greatly influence how the new council will work together.
"It's extremely important," Edgerton said. He reasoned that if he could garner the votes to become vice mayor, he could get a majority of votes on other issues.
Edgerton attributed his victory mostly to his colleagues' awareness that they have too often been divided by "politics of personalities rather than politics of issues." In the past, Kell and Hall have led competing coalitions. But now, Edgerton thinks he can serve as an effective mediator between the camps.
It was those "deep concerns" of his colleagues that netted him the job, and not any back-room deals, Edgerton said. "Absolutely not--what would I promise them?"
"We'll have a real working council now . . . without cliques," Edgerton said.
"What this vote (for vice mayor) was all about was inclusive rather than exclusive politics" because now all members will feel they are part of the majority vote, according to Edgerton. "With one fell swoop, they changed the dynamics of that council by more than 180 degrees."
Earlier, during the swearing-in ceremony, Hall sent out a similar message when she told Kell that "now, it's time for all of us to work together."
Several council members seemed satisfied with the process that led them to lobby each other.
"It's the process. It's the only one we've got," Hall said.
Added Harwood: "It's kind of the nature of the thing."