In the most hotly contested race in the San Gabriel Valley, Dick Richards of South Pasadena surprised everyone--including himself--with his landslide victory Tuesday in a City Council race that centered on the decades-old issue of whether the Long Beach Freeway should be completed.
The South Pasadena race was one of several in the San Gabriel Valley this fall that sparked the interest of the electorate, and at times harsh words among the candidates. Among more than 30 local contests, the most heated included school board races in the Hacienda La Puente, Temple City and Rio Hondo College districts.
Richards, a 67-year-old retired FBI agent and businessman, campaigned on what, in his freeway-fighting community, is considered a middle-of-the road platform: He did not favor completing the freeway through South Pasadena but also did not adopt the so-called "no-build" position. The city, he said, must continue to negotiate with the state Department of Transportation and explore other alternatives to solving traffic problems in the western San Gabriel Valley.
"To be 100% truthful," Richards said, "I didn't think I'd win by the margin I did." He attributed his win, in part, to a grass-roots organization of 50 volunteers, many of whom were new to politics. Dozens of these supporters filled Richards' house on Tuesday night, singing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" and cheering as results were read aloud.
Richards' victory over Jane A. Crosby, who finished second, and Mavis Minjares ends a seven-month-long impasse that developed after the council could not agree on a replacement for Crosby's late husband, Councilman Joseph Crosby, who died in April.
Unofficial returns showed Richards with 2,757 votes or 62.8%; Crosby with 985 or 22.4%, and Minjares with 642 or 14.6%. All three were seeking elective office for the first time.
Crosby, 69, expressed disappointment as she heard the final results late Tuesday night. "I very much wanted to complete my husband's term," she said. "I ran a good campaign, did everything I could to win. But the community has spoken otherwise. And I do have other things in life to do now."
Earlier in the evening, she had said she expected the race to be very close. But even in absentee ballots, which she had encouraged voters to use by including application forms in a campaign mailing, Crosby came in second to Richards.
Last spring Crosby was among those the council considered appointing in place of her husband, who had completed only one year of a four-year term. However, the council could not agree, and an election was forced.
Councilman James C. Hodge Jr., one of those who would not agree to appoint Crosby, said he felt vindicated for having pushed for an election rather making an appointment. "We were under a lot of pressure to appoint Crosby," he said.
In the end, Hodge and Mayor Pro Tem Evelyn Fierro openly supported Richards. Mayor Samuel Knowles and Councilman James S. Woollacott Jr. had favored appointing Crosby but during the campaign made no open endorsement.
Woollacott, despite voting for Crosby, called Richards "a man of caliber" late Tuesday night.
Fierro said Richards' election was "a real strong statement. Caltrans better get the message."
Like the other two candidates, Jane Crosby opposed Caltrans plans to extend the freeway directly through the center of town. But she did not rule out completing the freeway.
In contrast, Minajares, whose political involvement grew out of her opposition to a proposed freeway route on the west side of the community, labeled her position as "no-build," saying no more work should be done on the project.
Richards said "no-build" sounds too intransigent.
Crosby interpreted the election results as a statement that the community is changing.
Explained her campaign adviser, Dick Ramos: "Many non-property owners voted. They are younger voters," he said, and less likely to care that Crosby was born and raised in South Pasadena and has a long history of community involvement.
Hodge disagreed with that interpretation.
"To say these voters are newcomers, who just casually wandered by the ballot box, is not quite right," he said. "These are people have been around for a while and now are just voicing their opinions. I would not say this (election result) has come out of left field."
Victor Minjares, speaking for his wife, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, said: "We feel, of course, very disappointed. We hope Richards' interests agree with interests we had of protecting all areas of the city from the freeway."
In another controversial San Gabriel Valley race, one of two incumbents was ousted in the Hacienda Heights-La Puente Unified School District, where a dispute over a so-called "morbid" reading text has lingered since the school year began.