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Final Debate Rancorous in Anaheim's Mayoral Race

Elections: Heated allegations fly as Tom Daly and Bob Zemel face off over a variety of issues at candidates forum.

October 23, 1998|JANET WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly and his opponent, Councilman Bob Zemel, traded political barbs Thursday during their last debate before residents decide who will lead Orange County's second-largest city.

The forum, sponsored by the Women's Division of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, had barely begun when Daly declared: "My opponent is a dishonest person . . . an extremist politician. He's bad for Anaheim."

When his turn came, Zemel sprang from his chair and responded: "You just heard I'm bad for Anaheim from someone who said 'no negative campaigning.' " Zemel said if "cleaning up" the problems created for the city by Daly "means I'm bad for Anaheim, then that's OK by me."

The race for mayor of Anaheim has become one of the county's most bitter elections, and much is at stake. Anaheim is home to the county's largest tourist attractions, including Disneyland and Edison Internatinal Field, and the new mayor will oversee continuing growth. The victor could also gain cachet as a viable contender for higher office.

Daly and Zemel, seated next to each other at a luncheon that also featured four council candidates, traded heated words on a variety of topics, including campaign contributions by gambling interests, a proposed county jail south of Anaheim Hills and more mundane issues like utility taxes. Each painted the other as distorting the truth.

One example of their differences cropped up in a question about whether the city should help the school district plan and pay for new facilities as it grapples with overcrowding. Since the late 1980s, the district's school population has nearly doubled, from 11,000 to 20,000 students.

Daly said it is primarily the school board's responsibility to deal with new facilities, although he said the city should help.

Zemel said the local districts are plagued by "illegal alien student overcrowding." He called upon the federal government to provide financial assistance, saying they have failed to check illegal immigration.

He acknowledged that his comments "may be dirty words to say in polite company." But he said: "There are important issues facing kids, touchy subjects. You need leaders who will touch those subjects."

Some comic relief in the combative debate was provided by the self-declared "English Bulldog" party member, Gus Bode, who often left the largely female crowd laughing. At one point, the third mayoral candidate announced: "I'm not a hypocrite. I'm the Ross Perot of Anaheim . . . I tell the truth, and I've been married and loyal to my wife for 50 years."

Members of the audience said they'd enjoyed the debate and called it educational, in spite of the sharp remarks.

But Lorri Galloway, executive director of the Eli Home for abused children, said she was bothered by the negativity.

"I don't like controversy," she said. "But it's to be expected, it's a very heated race. That's politics."

Daly has been Anaheim's mayor since 1990 and Zemel has been a city councilman since 1994.

After the forum ended, Zemel said he didn't think either candidate had been too nasty.

"I don't dislike Tom Daly personally . . . but he's a tax-and-spend liberal Democrat," said Zemel, who said he is being endorsed by every Republican congressman in Orange County.

Daly, who expressed anger about the injection of partisan politics into a nonpartisan race, said that he is also endorsed by leading Anaheim and county Republicans.

"I simply think he's a desperate guy," Daly said of Zemel. "I intend to stay on the high road."

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