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Crime Rhetoric Charges City Election : Santa Ana's Candidates Compete on Bolstering Police Force

October 25, 1988|BOB SCHWARTZ | Times Staff Writer

Cops and crime. It seems that almost every candidate for City Council in Santa Ana this year is talking about providing more of the first and taking a big bite out of the second.

Mayoral candidate George Hanna said that if he is elected he will immediately call for hiring 100 more police officers, higher police salaries and more powerful weapons.

"I'd give those guys tanks if I could," Hanna said. "What they have isn't effective against Uzis and AK-47 rifles."

Such talk is not really surprising, considering that Santa Ana leads the county in several important crime categories, including murder. Incumbents point to the city's reduced crime rate in 1987 and to a budget increase for the Police Department this year as proof that they are on the right track.

Their opponents point to more recent statistics--and a rash of shootings this summer--showing that crime is rising once again in the county's most urban city.

When they go to the polls Nov. 8, Santa Ana voters will decide between two council incumbents who have often been at each other's throats and who are pitted against each other now because of the way the city's wards were redrawn.

They will also choose a mayor for the first time; in the past, the mayor has been selected by the council.

The outcome of the election could strengthen or shake the current four-member majority's grip on the council. Three of the four--Dan Griset, Wilson B. Hart and Vice Mayor Patricia A. McGuigan--are up for reelection, while the fourth, Dan Young, is running for mayor.

Young, 37, has led the council's ambitious effort to redevelop major portions of Santa Ana. A developer himself, Young has helped attract such companies as the Birtcher Corp. and C.J. Segerstrom & Sons into the city.

Hanna said Young, the current mayor, has squeezed large campaign contributions out of such companies, pointing out that Segerstrom firms alone have contributed almost $7,000 to his war chest.

"I welcome the support of Henry Segerstrom," Young replied. "This is a developer who built MainPlace, the centerpiece to upgrade our community."

One of the primary issues in the race, according to Young, is "whether or not we're going to allow the police union to run the city."

The Santa Ana Police Benevolent Assn., which has been locked in a bitter contract dispute with the city for more than a year, is spending thousands of dollars on candidates it has endorsed--including Hanna--in a bid to "take over the City Council," Young said.

Hanna, 59, is a contractor and frequent critic of the council. In addition to taking a strong pro-police stance, Hanna promised to stop what he said is the City Council's shabby treatment of developers.

"They're the heroes of this land," Hanna said. "If they have a good project, then by God let's let them build it."

The third mayoral candidate, Sadie Reid-Benham, 57, a child- care consultant, has run for City Council three times but never won. A former Santa Ana Unified School District board president, Reid-Benham said she hopes that grass-roots support will make up for the huge lead the other two candidates have in campaign money.

"The people of Santa Ana are not going to be intimidated by dollars," she said. "They're going to seek out a candidate who is compassionate . . . yet tough enough to address the real social ills of the city."

Ward 1

Vice Mayor McGuigan faces two challengers in this race, both of whom have been strident in their criticism of the council the past few years.

Patricia H. Mill, 50, is a homemaker and block captain in the city's Neighborhood Watch program. Mill has consistently blasted the council for not offering police officers higher salaries.

"People want more police protection," Mill said. "I don't figure Pat (McGuigan) has paid enough attention to public safety . . . or what people in our area want."

Zeke Hernandez, 42, is a commercial real estate agent and president of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens. He has run for the council twice previously.

Hernandez said the council has failed to develop a comprehensive anti-crime program.

"You have to get parents, some students, the school district, social services . . . and the police involved," he said. "I see a vacuum where there should be coordinated leadership for the city."

McGuigan, 54, said the city has made significant strides in strengthening the police force, and she defends the city's record on police salaries.

Ward 3

In this race, at least one incumbent has to lose. That is because a new ward plan adopted earlier this year placed council members Hart and John Acosta in the same ward.

The two were once friends. During Acosta's early years on the council, Hart served as his campaign treasurer. But Acosta's refusal to endorse Hart when he ran in 1984, and Acosta's subsequent freeze-out by the council majority, led to a parting of the ways.

Hart now talks with relish of ending the political career of a man he said would take the city back to the days when "we were a beer bar away from damnation."

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