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Odd Man Out : Controversial Councilman Often Votes on Losing Side

October 18, 1992|RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Councilman Warren Harwood glowered. After arguing fiercely, Harwood was on the losing end of a 5-to-1 vote, the latest in a string of defeats.

"I'd like to have more (council members) understanding and supporting my positions, but if that isn't the case, then so be it," Harwood said.

Smart, well-informed and dedicated--or misdirected, bull-headed and self-aggrandizing, as some say--Harwood has become the odd man out on the Long Beach City Council.

Some of Harwood's council colleagues roll their eyes, smirk, read papers or simply walk away from the dais when he begins to hammer home a point--again.

Harwood can be relentless--like a pit bull, more than one city official has said. If Harwood does not get satisfaction during a council meeting, he often shoots off a fax to the press.

"That tactic is my only choice in some circumstances," Harwood said.

The 53-year-old councilman likes to take on big issues. For example, he has called unsuccessfully for a full audit to determine who is responsible for allowing the city-owned Queen Mary to fall into a state of disrepair that will require $27 million to fix.

But he also is not above debating the mundane. Once, Harwood argued about whether to open or close the curtains in the council chamber, a decision that would affect the cable broadcast of meetings.

But Harwood's near-legendary battles with Mayor Ernie Kell have contributed most to making him one of the most controversial council members of the past 25 years.

Harwood has accused Kell, his onetime buddy and political ally, of being a "captive of special interests."

"I don't want to battle, but I'm there to make sure things go straight," said Harwood, who considers himself a government watchdog.

Kell, who has grown weary of Harwood's attacks, has denied the allegation. He is curt with Harwood during council meetings and at times cuts off the councilman in mid-sentence.

"We have different political views," the mayor said. "That's about it."

Part of the problem is that Harwood and Kell differ on how to improve Long Beach.

Kell, a businessman, has put his efforts into developing downtown, including the on-going expansion of the convention center. He also supports a proposal to turn Shoreline Aquatic Park into a harbor that would be surrounded by restaurants and tourist shops.

"We have an opportunity to create thousands and thousands of jobs," Kell said.

But Harwood argues that more city resources should be funneled to neighborhoods. He bristles at the suggestion that a city park should become the home of a tourist attraction that some residents could not afford to visit.

"I believe the neighborhoods require our first-priority attention," Harwood said. "We've been so swept up in the grand plans that we let the neighborhoods go to pot."

In Harwood's 9th District, the northern part of Long Beach made up of modest working-class homes and small businesses, supporters and opponents are equally fervent.

"They always treated us like stepchildren until Warren got in," said Martha Croft, an activist in the North Long Beach Neighborhood Assn. and a member of the city's Senior Citizen Advisory Commission. "He's fought for us up here."

But Gladys A. Gutierrez, a 9th District resident and member of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, said she is considering running against Harwood in 1994. She accuses him of being unable to work with his colleagues on the City Council.

"He seems to try to go against everyone else so his name can be in the paper," she said.

Harwood has been most controversial lately, but the councilman has a history of going against the grain.

He grew up in Long Beach and graduated in 1957 from Wilson High School. Former classmate Allan E. Tebbetts, a Long Beach lawyer, described Harwood as a good student and a nonconformist.

"He always had his own ideas and was never bound in by what everyone else was doing," Tebbetts said.

After graduating from UCLA business school, Harwood worked first in the Los Angeles Engineering Department and then in South El Monte. At age 24, he became city manager of San Jacinto.

"I was very ambitious," said Harwood, who took night classes to earn a master's degree in public administration in 1964.

Harwood was quickly initiated to the volatile world of municipal politics. A council majority fired Harwood in 1965. Among the things that angered the council was that Harwood allowed a parking lot to be resurfaced with the wrong material, according to press accounts.

Former San Jacinto Councilman William M. Stewart, 85, said in a recent interview that Harwood's attitude contributed to his dismissal.

"He wanted to be the big shot," said Stewart, a retired farmer who voted to fire Harwood. "He pulled some boners and wouldn't listen to anybody in the know."

But Harwood said he defied the council majority in the interests of good government.

After holding several other managerial positions, he took a job in 1978 with Los Angeles County as an administrative worker and is in a similar position now.

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