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New Council Off on a Rosy Honeymoon

July 21, 1994|EDMUND NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A euphoric Long Beach City Council, with four fresh faces and an abundance of newfound goodwill, pushed knotty urban problems aside Tuesday and emphasized the city's hopes and strengths in a daylong celebration.

Let crime, blight, an anemic city budget and political rivalries surface again next week, council members suggested. This day--on which three new council members and a new mayor were sworn in--was for rosy affirmations of unity and progress.

"It is time to put behind us, once and for all, all negativism and doubts about our future," new Mayor Beverly O'Neill said.

Also taking the oath of office for the first time were council members Jenny Oropeza, Mike Donelon and Jerry Shultz. Councilmen Douglas S. Drummond and Les Robbins took the oath as reelected incumbents.

But this was clearly O'Neill's day. Dressed in a black suit with a checkered scarf around her neck, the ebullient new mayor hugged her colleagues, exchanged jokes with constituents and, at every opportunity, lauded Long Beach, her hometown.

O'Neill assumes the $86,659-a-year job--which gives her the authority to run council meetings, make appointments to commissions but not to vote on council issues--in the wake of alarming fiscal and social problems in recent years.

"We were born here," she said of herself and her husband, Bill. "But we chose to live here. I think we live in one of the great cities of the world."

In the last decade, the city has experienced large-scale layoffs by its big employers, the loss of the Long Beach Naval Station, a doubling of violent crime and increasing blight in many of the city's poor neighborhoods.

"The only thing we can be sure of is more change," O'Neill said.

But with the city's central location, thriving port and seaside climate, she said, the prospects are good for improvement.

The day's events included a reception in front of City Hall and, late in the afternoon, a program of jazz, operetta and speeches in the downtown Promenade. They also included the regularly scheduled weekly council meeting, with O'Neill presiding for the first time.

As its first act, the new council elected Drummond as vice mayor, with Donelon joining four self-styled conservatives on the council to edge out Doris Topsy-Elvord, the council's only African American, by a 5-4 vote. The largely ceremonial position of vice mayor is filled every two years.

Some observers were watching the vote closely as a possible omen of things to come, with the prospect of Drummond and four supporters (Donelon, Shultz, Robbins and Jeffrey A. Kellogg) uniting to push though a conservative agenda.

Donelon, who describes himself as a moderate independent, insisted afterward, however, that his vote for Drummond was based largely on friendship, not ideological compatibility.

"Doug and I have worked together for many years," said Donelon, who has been the president of the California Heights Neighborhood Assn. "He was the first one out of the chute in support of my council race. I also like Doris (Topsy-Elvord)."

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