LONG BEACH — Luanne W. Pryor, last year's dark horse mayoral candidate, has decided to endorse incumbent Mayor Ernie Kell, throwing her support behind a man she previously criticized as a follower lacking both vision and imagination.
Ending months of indecision about her political future, Pryor surprised followers of local politics by announcing this week not only that she will not run, but that she was endorsing Kell in his race against Councilman Tom Clark.
Kell's camp immediately took the endorsement as a boon that virtually ensured Kell's victory at the polls next April. "After this evening, it's going to be very easy," Vice Mayor Wallace Edgerton, one of Kell's political allies, declared to a banquet room full of the mayor's supporters at a fund-raising dinner Tuesday night.
Clark maintained his even-handed demeanor when informed of the news. "Luanne Pryor is certainly not the key to this race," he said, adding that it was hard to predict how much weight her endorsement would carry. "I'm rather surprised because she hasn't been particularly close to Mr. Kell or his positions."
Pryor, a public relations executive and political newcomer with a comparatively meager campaign fund, managed to capture nearly a quarter of the votes in last year's election to choose the city's full-time mayor. Her unexpected success forced Kell into a runoff with Councilwoman Jan Hall, which Kell won.
Had Pryor entered next year's race, the concern in Kell's quarters was that she would again take votes from the mayor. Though Clark said he has assumed that if Pryor didn't run, he might pick up a good part of her support, Kell's advisers look to a poll from the Hall-Kell race. The majority of Pryor's supporters indicated they would vote for Kell rather than Hall.
In a prepared statement at the $250-a-ticket fund-raiser in a downtown hotel, Pryor said she has watched Kell grow in his new position during the past four months.
"I have been looking very carefully at what has been happening and Ernie Kell knows that I have been looking and I have come to the conclusion that the man we honor this evening has done an excellent job as our first full-time mayor. He has proved that the newly created position works."
That was not Pryor's opinion just a few months ago, when she said in an interview that she thought Long Beach residents needed "somebody who's more awake" than Kell.
'No Strong Leadership'
"I just don't see any strong leadership, I don't see anything exciting happening," she said then of Kell's performance. "People have said to me that they think the (new full-time mayor's position) is a waste of time and it hasn't amounted to anything."
In an interview Tuesday, Pryor said her support of Kell was not an overnight conversion. "I have noticed a decided change. If I had not seen that change. I would not be here." She also said she preferred Kell to Clark. "I don't like his condescension," she said of Clark.
Another undoubted factor for Pryor, who retains political ambitions, is that both she and Kell are Democrats, while Clark is a Republican.
Money was a decisive issue in keeping Pryor out of next year's race. "I don't think I could have raised the amount of money it would have taken to win this race," Pryor said, noting that unlike Kell, she could not pour large sums of her own money into a campaign. She still has a campaign debt of $6,000 left over from last year.
Both Kell and Pryor insisted that no deal had been made for help with her campaign debt or for an appointment to any city commission or committee.
To the extent that she is eyeing any position right now, Pryor said she is toying with the idea of running against Assemblyman Dennis Brown ( R-Long Beach) for the 58th District seat.