The candidacy of Ward, with his history of investigating such powerful county institutions as the sheriff and the assessor, threatened to change that by questioning old procedures and initiating probes of practices he did not like. And he chilled county officials with his promise to revive a network of whistle-blowers to provide him with tips when he was on the board.
The campaign, and a study of their records, produced other areas where there was a prospect of change.
Ward is a Democrat. While he was never a liberal, he is more sympathetic to health and welfare programs than Antonovich, a Reagan conservative. And the support of Ward by the county employees' biggest union, Local 660 of the Service Employees International Union, was evidence that many county workers believed that he would be more agreeable in labor negotiations than Antonovich.
Land-use was the clearest example of how the two differed.
Even Ward's most fervent backers conceded that he had never been a deeply committed advocate of growth control. But he pledged to examine the land-use plans for his district as soon as he took office, and to turn down subdivision proposals that exceeded the limits of the county General Plan.
Antonovich, on the other hand, expressed confidence in county planning procedures and strongly defended the residential subdivisions he had approved that were considerably larger than envisioned by the General Plan.
Another area of difference was how to deal with the troubling social and health problems of the state's biggest and most urban county, where immigration and birth is swelling the population of the inner-city poor while fast-growing subdivisions in the suburbs are increasing the number of middle- and upper-middle-class families.
Ward advocated the distribution of needles, condoms and bleach kits to drug addicts to prevent the spread of AIDS among addicts who inject themselves with drugs. Antonovich strongly opposed that. And, in a television commercial that aired in the final days, he sought to use the proposal against Ward. Without saying the proposal was related to AIDS, the commercial showed an addict injecting drugs, a tray full of needles and said: "Mike Antonovich says we should arrest dope dealers and teach our kids to say no to drugs. Baxter Ward wants taxpayers to pay for free needles for drug addicts. Another one of Baxter Ward's absurd proposals."
Another area of potential change was in the treatment of the mentally ill. It was not clear what Ward would do; the issue never emerged in the campaign. But Antonovich, over the last eight years, had assumed a dominant role in the running of the county Mental Health Department, with his staff members having considerable influence in day-to-day and long-range affairs.
Antonovich and his staff had a long-range agenda, an increase in mandatory commitment for the worst of the homeless mentally ill. For that goal to be attained, another four years of Antonovich was needed.
The runoff election followed more than two years of intense homeowner criticism of Antonovich from groups in the Santa Monica Mountains and the northern reaches of the county. That rise in criticism coincided with the growth of the anti-development movement throughout the state.
Antonovich had been reelected easily four years ago. But this time, Ward and eight other challengers cut down his vote so that he dropped below 50% in the June primary. That threw him into the runoff.