SAN GABRIEL — The lawn signs, advertising homeowners' allegiance to their chosen candidates, are up again. The candidates and their supporters are knocking on voters' doors. It must be election time in San Gabriel.
But wait. There's something missing. Unlike the last bitterly fought City Council election in April, 1988, and the two most recent special elections, there has been a jarring absence of vitriol.
Mary Cammarano and Norm Stabeck, competing in a Sept. 12 election for the council seat vacated when Vice Mayor Frank Blaszcak was successfully recalled in May, have been downright respectful of each other. In fact, the most hotly fought issue of the campaign so far has been the candidates' respective experience and expertise.
"We've agreed that we want to keep it issue-oriented," said Richard Valverde, Stabeck's campaign manager.
"You'd hardly know there was an election going on," added Stabeck. "When you go out knocking on doors, people are saying: 'What? We have to go through this again? We just went through one.' "
In the last council election, in which a slate of three slow-growth candidates swept three incumbents out of office, competing sides called each other "radical extremists" and "major developers." In the May recall election, Blaszcak was voted out of office amid charges that he offered to sell drugs to a Santa Ana police officer, charges that are now the subject of a libel suit.
"The people of San Gabriel don't deserve what's happened in the past," said Cammarano, referring to recent mud-slinging campaigns.
Despite some disdain for each other's qualifications, Cammarano and Stabeck have stayed low-key. At times, they sound remarkably alike. Both support open government and restraints on some forms of development. And both are urging that the faction-racked council stick to city business.
The City Council is approving a new General Plan for the city, which has operated under a voter-approved moratorium on development for 20 months. The moratorium is scheduled to be lifted in December.
Cammarano, office manager for Local 923 of the Cement Masons Union, moved to San Gabriel from Buffalo, N.Y., 25 years ago. This is her first run for office, but she has been involved in volunteer organizations since she arrived in the city, starting with the PTA. All five of her children are grown.
She is president of the American Field Service, volunteer chairman for the local chapter of the American Red Cross and a board member for the San Gabriel Historical Assn. And she has been attending City Council meetings for 22 years, always ready to speak out from the perspective of longtime San Gabriel homeowners.
Cammarano supported Blaszcak's recall, publicly crossing swords with the controversial vice mayor about, among other things, his purchase of a portable telephone at city expense.
There are no radical differences between herself and Stabeck, Cammarano said, except in their respective lengths of service to San Gabriel. "I've been in town 25 years; he's been here three years," she said. "That's important." (Actually, Stabeck has been a resident for seven years, three at his current address in the northern part of the city.)
Not for Slow Growth
Despite being a former member of Citizens for Responsible Development, Cammarano is not a slow-growth proponent, she insists. She favors "quality development," though she wants to see more restrictions on oversized houses on small lots. "With some of the homes they're building, you have to look twice to see if they're really single-family," she said.
She also favors voluntary recycling and synchronizing traffic lights to improve traffic flow.
Stabeck, a financial analyst with the Orange County Transit District, also stresses his experience: 15 years of "professional experience in local government." He has been a member of the city Planning Commission since the beginning of 1988. He has worked for the Southern California Assn. of Governments as a transportation planner, as well as for the city of Glendale as a planner.
The Planning Commission has been unusually effective during his tenure, Stabeck said. The commission has produced a new city sign ordinance and a design review committee, and it has helped draft the new General Plan.
But the city is at a turning point, Stabeck said. Because of its location "between residential communities to the east and employment centers in downtown Los Angeles," he said, San Gabriel is having difficulty controlling its own destiny.
"With increasing land values, there's tremendous pressure to increase the apartment and condo supply, because developers can sell them," he said.
Stabeck vowed that, if elected, he will seek to maintain the city's small-town character through new land-use ordinances and zoning codes and through vigilance on the City Council, which is the court of last resort on zoning matters.