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Local Elections : CITY COUNCILS : Voters Favoring Incumbents in Close Races

November 09, 1994|STEPHANIE SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County voters on Tuesday elected representatives to eight city councils, apparently favoring incumbents in several close races.

* In Thousand Oaks, five candidates bunched at the top of the pack, including incumbents Judy Lazar and Elois Zeanah. In a race too tight to call, firefighter Andy Fox and police detective Michael Markey, both pro-business candidates, also surged in early returns. Former Councilman Lee Laxdal also emerged as a contender.

* In Oxnard, incumbent Tom Holden, an optometrist, jumped to an early lead amid a crowded field of little-known candidates. Businessman Dean Maulhardt, a descendant of two prominent farming families, pushed toward the front of the pack as well. Also in the running were former Oxnard solid waste superintendent John Zaragoza and longtime city activist Roy W. Lockwood.

* In Simi Valley, the two candidates with the best name recognition--Councilwoman Sandi Webb and former police chief Lindsey Paul Miller--led slightly in early returns.

While Ventura's ballot did not feature a council race this year, voters did confront a heated campaign on a key policy issue: whether to reopen Poli Street near Ventura High School during school hours. The ballot initiative seeking to open the street, Measure E, was losing by a substantial margin in early returns.

Three of the county's council races--in Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Thousand Oaks--featured more than 10 candidates. With so many names leaping off the ballots, some voters said they leaned toward candidates with the greatest name recognition--either incumbents or longtime local activists.

"We looked for people with a track record in the community," said Bonnie Hampton, 76, as she left a Thousand Oaks polling place early Tuesday.

Simi Valley Councilwoman Webb, apparently on her way to winning a second term, said incumbents enjoy a definite advantage.

"You have a track record that people can look at and see . . . how you actually perform as opposed to what you say you will do," Webb said. "I think that goes a long way."

*

The county's nastiest local race was in Thousand Oaks, where 16 candidates fought for three seats in a campaign marred by death threats and vandalism.

For the first time in city history, the race produced two slates, emphasizing the ideological split running through the fierce campaign.

Zeanah and the two political novices she endorsed--city operations manager David Hare and retired filmmaker M. Ali Issari--promised to slow growth, expand public parkland and adhere strictly to all city development standards.

Lazar, on the other hand, billed herself as "the voice of reason" and argued that council members must compromise to achieve fair solutions. Her generally pro-development stance won an endorsement from retiring Mayor Alex Fiore, who also backed three challengers.

Despite mudslinging between the factions, some voters said they were glad that so many candidates with so many ideas had entered the fray.

"To me, it was encouraging that there was such a large field of candidates and so many of them were just Joe Regular people," said Brian Saline, 39, a Thousand Oaks banker. "It's good that when people are fed up, instead of just complaining, they want to go out and do something about it."

In marked contrast to Thousand Oaks' no-holds-barred race, the seven candidates jostling for two seats in Simi Valley ran clean campaigns, with little mudslinging. Incumbent Webb and the six challengers held similar priorities: Keep the city safe, build a bigger police station and bolster the local economy.

*

Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton, opposed only by a teen-age, write-in candidate, was poised to win his fifth term on the council by promising to keep the city on its current track.

Across the county, Oxnard's crowded council race focused on hotly contested local issues, such as how to redevelop fading neighborhoods and how to provide more affordable housing.

Eleven candidates bid for two seats, with several political newcomers arguing that the council needed a fresh perspective to guide the city's long-term growth. Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez ran unopposed for a second term.

"The city needs stronger economic growth and it needs redevelopment," said Kirby Shaw, 62, who voted for two challengers in the Oxnard race. "I think it needs to happen, after this election. I think it needs some new life."

In Port Hueneme, another hectic council contest turned into a referendum on two key issues: the fate of a proposed recreational-vehicle park and the future of the city's small Police Department.

Port Hueneme officials have estimated that the RV park could bring in $400,000 each year. But environmentalists have fervently fought plans to develop the park along the fragile dunes of Hueneme Beach. The newly elected council members will decide the sensitive issue. They will also vote whether to disband the city's police department or raise taxes to maintain it.

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