The first ballot had scarcely been counted Nov. 2 before maneuvering for the Ventura mayor's seat began.
Councilman Tom Buford wants the job. Councilman Jim Monahan is lobbying for it. Councilman Jack Tingstrom has his eye on it. Councilwoman-elect Rosa Lee Measures says she wouldn't turn it down.
Chances are, Buford has the votes.
When the reconstituted City Council first meets Dec. 6, the one-term councilman and Ventura labor attorney will probably get at least four votes from the seven-member council, some of his colleagues say. Current Mayor Greg Carson is not allowed a second consecutive term.
The vote for mayor is important, council members say, because it sometimes makes political friends and enemies that last for years.
Although Buford seems to have the edge, three other mayoral hopefuls say they are undeterred. And over the next three weeks, they say, they will press Buford's apparent majority for support.
They will call each other, and they will meet for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the candidates say. Promises will be made. Committee appointments will be offered. And egos will be stroked.
"There's really no one way that a mayor is picked," former Mayor John McWherter said. "It's a purely political thing. Generally it's all worked out in the back room."
Apparently it already has been.
Two council members said a deal was struck shortly after the election that will make Buford, who was elected on a pro-business platform in 1991, the next mayor. Voting with Buford would be Carson, Councilman Gary Tuttle and Councilman-elect Steve Bennett.
As part of the deal, Tuttle would become deputy mayor, environmentalist Bennett would be a member of the council's Water Committee and Carson would chair the city's Redevelopment Agency board.
Buford would not say if such an agreement exists, but the 45-year-old lawyer said he had lobbied all council members for the mayoralty. Over the last two years, Buford has worked closely with Carson and Tuttle on many issues.
Carson and Tuttle would not confirm their solid support for Buford, but both have hinted previously that they would like to see him in that position. Bennett declined comment, except to say that he is not running for mayor.
"My natural alliance would be with Tom (Buford) and Gary (Tuttle)," Carson said. "And Steve (Bennett) is not going to vote for Jack (Tingstrom) and Jim (Monahan). The other three are so busy running for mayor that they haven't figured out what the four of us have been up to."
According to Tuttle, the two most likely groups to elect a mayor are himself and Bennett--both environmentalists--and moderate Carson in one camp, with Measures, Monahan and Tingstrom in a conservative, pro-business second alliance.
Tuttle said he and Bennett are a minority on the pro-business council and that neither is a realistic candidate for mayor. Carson cannot succeed himself. So it is natural that the three would vote together for a mayor, Tuttle said.
Tuttle noted that Measures, Monahan and Tingstrom could form a similar coalition because they are more politically conservative and their political agendas are similar.
But Tuttle said it is hard to believe that Measures, Monahan and Tingstrom will vote together for mayor. "They're so involved running for mayor they're not seeing the whole picture," he said.
Measures, Monahan and Tingstrom all said they do not have four votes, but still think they can obtain a council majority.
"I'm sorry to hear that any deals have been struck without including the three of us," Tingstrom said. "I don't know that Tom actually has four votes. It isn't a certainty. I have as good a chance as anybody."
Newcomer Measures, who led all candidates in the recent election, said it's too early to be counting votes.
Monahan, a perpetual candidate for mayor, said he's tired of the vote swapping and infighting that precede the biennial selection of a new mayor. The 16-year councilman said he now favors direct election of the mayor by voters.
"It shouldn't be this kind of circus," said Monahan, who was selected mayor in 1987. "It should be the voters' choice."
In Ventura's recent history, a compromise third candidate has frequently emerged as mayor after the two favorites failed to gain majority support.
Former Mayor Richard Francis and former Councilman Don Villeneuve--who were responsible for electing Monahan mayor in 1987--said they have regretted their votes ever since. Both said they favored Monahan over Councilman Bill Crew because they thought he would be easier to work with.
It did not work out that way, as Monahan's tenure as mayor was marked by regular bickering, both said. Francis and Villeneuve led the unsuccessful campaign to dump Monahan this fall.
Why anyone cares very much about the mayor's job is a legitimate question, since it does not carry much more power than that of a council post.
Still, the figurehead position is coveted. The mayor cuts ribbons, reads proclamations and runs the weekly council meetings.