They're playing political hardball these days in Simi Valley, a town that's been a launching pad for three of Ventura County's top elected officials.
Aggressive candidates have been hurling harsh accusations at the city's leaders--and at each other.
Mayoral candidate Steve Frank has accused city officials of putting pornography within easy reach of children by allowing an adult magazine in a public news rack.
City Council candidate Barbara Williamson has stated that her enemies tried to keep her from running by sending a "blackmail" note about her past to her co-workers.
Another council candidate, Tim Hodge, has questioned if Williamson has received a behind-the-scenes advantage by getting thousands of dollars worth of political research from her consultant, Jim Dantona.
Such allegations have dismayed some longtime residents.
"Politics has changed," said Bob Larkin, who has been active in local and county campaigns during his 24 years in Simi Valley. "We used to just get behind our candidates and try to see who could get the most signs up at the best locations and then get a good booth at the Simi Valley Days carnival.
"It is different (now) from the past because a dirty-politics element has been injected. You can't take anything at face value anymore because you have to figure out what's being done behind the scenes."
Simi Valley voters will have to sort through this complex campaign Nov. 3 when they choose a mayor and two City Council members. Four people are running for mayor, 13 for City Council.
The winners will take seats on the governing board where Assemblywoman Cathie Wright, U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly and Ventura County Supervisor Vicky Howard first flexed their political muscles.
Today, Simi Valley's population has jumped to 100,000, and veteran campaign watchers say it is no longer the cozy small town where local leaders vied politely for their turn to steer the community. Big-city politics have invaded Simi Valley, they say, leading to campaigns that are costlier--and nastier.
"I think there are some new people in town who have brought a different approach to politics," said Mayor Greg Stratton, who has lived in Simi Valley for 24 years and served on the council since 1979. "I think most people don't like it."
Some candidates are upset that Simi Valley council campaigns have become more expensive.
In 1990, political novice Sandi Webb's surprise victory was attributed partly to the extensive cable television ads she purchased. Several people running in this year's race expect they will need to raise $20,000 to $30,000 to pay for television ads, mailers and phone banks.
More than two months before the election, the race for mayor, involving four men who each possess a high public profile, has garnered the most attention.
Joining Stratton and Frank in the race are attorney Robert L. Plunkett, who led a Ventura County drive to put a school voucher initiative on the state ballot, and Kenneth L. Ashton, who has served more than two decades on the Simi Valley Unified School District Board of Education.
Plunkett, 40, has lived in the city for seven years. He said he decided to enter the race after hearing about bureaucratic problems at City Hall that led to the closure of a business and delayed plans to construct a new church. Plunkett has pledged to reform the city's planning and permit processes.
Although Plunkett is not as well known as some of the other mayoral candidates, his opponents said he should not be underestimated. His campaign is being run by Aaron Starr, who managed newcomer Webb's successful campaign in 1990.
Ashton, 61, a retired bank manager, said he entered the race after concluding that the City Council was not working well with other government panels, including the school board and the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District board.
He became particularly angry last spring when the City Council voted down a school district plan to build a shopping center that might have generated millions of dollars for local education.
Ashton said he will rely on his wide name recognition. He does not plan to spend heavily on mailers or other campaign materials.
Frank, 45, a public affairs consultant and lobbyist who moved to Simi Valley four years ago, has generated great attention in the early days of the campaign by criticizing Stratton--repeatedly and publicly.
Frank has challenged the mayor's approval of plans to spend $2.5 million in city dollars and redevelopment funds to turn a historic 68-year-old church into a 300-seat community theater. Stratton said it is a long-overdue civic project, but Frank said it should be funded privately.
At televised City Council meetings, Frank has scolded Stratton for not moving quickly to rid the city of a news rack selling a sexually oriented magazine that is accessible to any child with 75 cents.