POMONA — Donna Smith, seeking reelection Tuesday as mayor of this often-troubled city of 119,000, admits that her first term was not without challenge and controversy.
Since she replaced venerable community leader G. Stanton Selby as mayor two years ago, Smith has presided over a city beset at times by bloody gang violence and brazen drug-dealing. She has quarreled with militant community activists, resulting in eight arrests at council meetings. She has feuded often with a colleague who has denounced her as a "dictator."
"Pomona is not an easy city to lead," said Smith, 34. "My first term as mayor probably has been more complex and difficult because I was the first female mayor in the city's history. I found myself constantly having to prove myself. There were a lot of people who thought I couldn't handle the job who have since made comments to the effect that they were wrong about me."
The returns from the March 7 primary showed that many voters believed Smith could handle the job. In a field of six candidates, the mayor received 3,716 votes, or 49.7% of the total cast. But because she failed to garner a majority, Smith now finds herself in a battle of personalities against Selby, who placed second with 1,493 votes, or 20%.
Selby has argued that Smith's problems--and those of the city--are largely of the mayor's own making. Under Smith's leadership, Selby said, the City Council has degenerated into discord, rendering it incapable of solving Pomona's ills or luring new businesses to town.
"A lot of people in the community are upset with the chaos at the council meetings," said Selby, who served 10 years on the City Council before his defeat in 1987. "I've known business people who went to council meetings and walked out after five minutes. If you're going to put millions of dollars into a city, you have to have confidence in the political environment."
Smith acknowledged that council meetings are more rambunctious than they were during Selby's term. However, she attributed this change to the added presence of bright lights and TV cameras, which she said have increased both the volume and volatility of gadflies speaking at council meetings.
"During Mr. Selby's tenure as mayor, we did not have council meetings covered by cable television," Smith said. "Cable television, although it's a wonderful tool, has created some problems for cities that use it."
Selby maintains that the problem is not the medium, but the message conveyed by the person running the meeting. A retired music teacher and band leader, he noted that learning is impossible in an unruly classroom and music cannot be made if each player insists on tooting his own horn.
"You have cacophony--and of course, that's what we have down there at the council meetings," Selby said. "I'd have (combative speakers) taken out right away, but I wouldn't have them arrested. You have to be firm, but you also have to be fair. You can't let things get out of hand. If you do it once, you're dead. Some of these people will drive you right into the ground."
While the focus of Selby's campaign has been chaos at council meetings, Smith said she considers such a strategy counterproductive. "I think some people are not happy to see Mr. Selby in an attacking mode and that has changed a few votes," she said.
Smith said she prefers to run a positive campaign highlighting her achievements as mayor. "I believe that the list is almost endless," she said.
Specifically, Smith cited the city's agreement with a developer to build a regional shopping mall in southwest Pomona, the renovation of a shopping center at Towne Avenue and Arrow Highway, the salvaging of the Cobblestone Creek condominium project, the repaving of pothole-filled streets and the relighting of street lights turned off under Selby's administration.
But not all of the mayor's colleagues on the council attribute these achievements directly to Smith's leadership.
"No one person can do that much," Councilwoman Nell Soto said. "You can't claim a lot of accomplishments and say that I, I, I, I did this. The council does it together."
Soto, who said she will not endorse either candidate, described Smith as "outgoing and aggressive," while characterizing Selby as "cool, calm and collected." She said Smith is partly responsible for disruptions at council meetings.
"I wouldn't blame it all on television and the fact we get a lot of exposure--I blame some of it on a lack of maturity on Donna's part," Soto said. "I'm not making any public commitments. I just think we should have more maturity on the council, whether Donna gains some maturity or whether it's Selby."
While Soto has tried to remain neutral, Selby campaign signs are prominently displayed in Councilman Mark Nymeyer's front yard and Councilman C. L. (Clay) Bryant's City Hall office.