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ELECTIONS : In Torrance Mayoral Race, It Boils Down to Matter of Style : Politics: Tuesday's vote pits 'independent' Bill Applegate against 'consensus-builder' Dee Hardison. Crime is the biggest issue in campaign.

March 03, 1994|TED JOHNSON and MARY GUTHRIE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Torrance's two mayoral candidates agree on almost all the issues. But when it comes to styles, Councilman Bill Applegate and Councilwoman Dee Hardison are worlds apart.

Applegate, owner of a real estate firm, calls himself the "independent, common-sense candidate."

Hardison, a program specialist for the Torrance Unified School District, deems herself the "consensus-builder," a vital role, she says, in the city's top and largely ceremonial post.

"It is a dramatic contrast of personalities," said Mayor Katy Geissert, who is completing eight years in the post. "These are two candidates with very different styles."

Voters will select a new mayor on Tuesday. They also will choose three new City Council members from a field of 11 candidates, and a new city clerk from three contenders. City Treasurer Linda Barnett is running unopposed.

On crime--this election's biggest issue--Applegate and Hardison agree that the city has to maintain the Police Department's level of funding and, if possible, increase the visibility of officers on the streets. Both say the city can do more to lure new businesses and make it easier for companies to get through government red tape.

The two candidates are relying on endorsements from citizens groups and old allies to point out their differences.

Applegate, who has an extensive business background, says he has the hands-on experience necessary to guide the city's budget and lure businesses into town.

"Someone's not elected to the job to always give and take," Applegate said. "I have demonstrated my ability to accomplish lots of things."

Hardison, however, says she can get more done by finding agreement among council members. "I stand by the notion that you can be independent. But if you are only independent, and you can never find three other people to agree with you, how can you get the job done?"

Applegate got a head start in the campaign, declaring more than two years ago that he would seek the post.

Hardison, in the middle of her second term on the council, had not planned to run for any elective office again. But in late 1992, she entered the race after George Nakano, who was widely expected to run, decided to seek a state Senate seat.

Applegate collected a larger campaign war chest. As of Feb. 19, he had $28,093 in cash and had spent $37,018 this year. Hardison has $21,625 in cash and has spent $21,682 this year. Hardison uses her past campaigns to point out that money doesn't guarantee votes. She was the top council vote-getter in 1986 and 1990--ahead of Applegate--even though she was among the lowest spenders.

In the mayor's race, Applegate won the endorsement of the Torrance Police Officers Assn., which could prove a windfall because crime has been the most discussed topic in the campaign.

"Everyone agrees crime and public safety is an important issue," Applegate said.

Other endorsements, however, underscore longstanding rifts between Applegate and some other members of the council. Geissert has backed Hardison, along with Nakano and Councilmen Mark Wirth and Don Lee.

Hardison's background in civic affairs and strong support from Geissert in previous council campaigns have invited comparisons to the mayor. Geissert and Hardison were the first and second women elected to the council.

"Dee tends to be very cautious in her approach and very thorough," Geissert said. Applegate has been more contentious, opposing the council majority.

In 1987, Applegate was the lone council member to vote against giving City Atty. Stanley Remelmeyer a 34% salary increase a year before he stepped down. The move, which raised Remelmeyer's salary from $92,724 to $124,548, also boosted his pension benefits. In exchange, Remelmeyer agreed to give up city-financed health benefits and a car allowance.

Although he praised Remelmeyer, Applegate called the raise "totally out of line and unnecessary."

But Hardison said other employee groups have been offered the same arrangement.

That was not the only dispute over employee benefits. In 1988, the council--including Applegate--voted to allow managers to cash out on as many as 36 days of leave per year. The payments were intended to offset the time managers spend attending night meetings and performing other duties. But it added nearly $500,000 to the paychecks of top city managers.

Applegate and Hardison said they never would have approved it had they known how much it would cost.

In 1992, when the costs surfaced, the council scaled back the program from 36 to 24 days. It was later cut to eight days. Applegate voted against the action both times, saying the council did not trim enough.

Applegate publicly chastised City Manager LeRoy Jackson for what he called an "unexplained failure to communicate" the full cost of the program when it was first approved.

But Hardison and Geissert said Jackson did not intentionally mislead the council.

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