POMONA — Mayor Donna Smith and Councilwoman Nell Soto were forced into runoff elections Tuesday as Pomona voters, who were electing council members by district for the first time, gave a clear-cut victory to only one candidate.
Ken West, a fiscal administrator, defeated Charles Blanton, owner of a design studio, to represent Council District 5.
It was unclear Wednesday whether Willie E. White, outreach director of the Pomona Valley YMCA, would become the city's first black council member. White had 49.9% of the vote in District 6, just two votes short of a majority. Sixty-nine contested absentee ballots from across the city were to be counted on Friday.
A clear majority would enable White to avoid a runoff election April 16 against Robert L. Stoddard, a 40-year-old salesman who was the runner-up in the field of four candidates.
A runoff was also forced in Council District 4, which pitted five candidates seeking to replace outgoing incumbent Mark A. T. Nymeyer.
In the citywide mayor's race, Smith led the field of six candidates with 41.1% of the vote but fell well short of a majority. She will face Councilman Tomas Ursua, who polled 31.9% of the vote, in the April 16 runoff.
Smith, who was trying for a third two-year term, said she did well considering that Pomona voters have not elected a mayor to more than two terms since the 1940s. Still, she said, she had hoped to avoid a runoff. "I wanted it to be settled one way or the other," she said. "Now we're going to regroup and get the vote out."
Ursua said he might have done better if there had not been problems with absentee ballots. "My gut feeling is that a large chunk of our vote didn't come in," he said.
Because of a printing error, some absentee ballots were mailed to voters without the inclusion of an address showing where to return the ballots. Other absentee ballots arrived in the mail late, Ursua said. The City Council on Monday night extended the deadline for absentee voting from the day before the election to the close of the polls on election night in an effort to make voting easier. But "there was still a lot of confusion," Ursua said, and that hurt his campaign strategy, which was to promote voting by absentee ballots to increase voter turnout.
Councilwoman Nell Soto, 64, seeking her second four-year term, finished almost even with Bob Jackson, a 33-year-old teacher, who accused Soto of accepting campaign contributions from special interests and criticized her alliance with recalled Councilman C. L. (Clay) Bryant. They will meet in the April 16 runoff in the 1st Council District, which takes in the central portion of the city west of Garey Avenue and south of the San Bernardino Freeway.
Soto said she was not surprised to be forced into a runoff election. "I expected that," she said. "You had four candidates, and three of them were pounding on the incumbent."
Soto said she will go into the runoff with confidence. "I expect to run a clean, decent and honest campaign," she said, adding that she anticipates that "Mr. Jackson will run a sleazy campaign."
Jackson said Soto's failure to win a majority despite the advantage of incumbency means she is finished politically. "She has lost the race," he said. "The voters know who is responsible for what's going on at City Hall. They want to replace Nell Soto, and I'm proud they chose me to replace her."
In Council District 5, which includes Phillips Ranch and the Westmont area, West, 39, head of payroll and disbursements for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, defeated Blanton, a member of the city Planning Commission, 63% to 37%.
West, a former president of the Phillips Ranch Homeowners Assn., noted that he will be the first council member from that area. West said he intends to focus on the city's budget problems and the proposed regional shopping center, which is in his district. West said he is not opposed to the mall but wants to make sure that it does not add to traffic congestion or create other problems for nearby residents.
In District 4, which covers the central portion of the city east of Garey Avenue and south of the San Bernardino Freeway, the endorsement of outgoing Councilman Nymeyer didn't help candidate Penni Moffatt much. She finished third in a field of five.
Paula Hastings Lantz, 44, who counsels families with babies whose development is delayed, will meet William Paul Shelton, 35, a pool service owner, in the runoff. Lantz received nearly 30% of the vote, and Shelton more than 27% in Tuesday's balloting.
In District 6, which takes in the portion of the city north of the San Bernardino Freeway, White, who has lived in Pomona 35 years, surpassed his showing in 1983, when he came within 71 votes of defeating Nymeyer.
Stoddard, the runner-up in the race, is a newcomer to city politics. He stressed during the campaign that he was the only candidate in the race who had worked for the recall of Councilman Bryant last year.
San Gabriel Valley Election Returns