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Term Limits Can't Stop Mayor

Long Beach: Write-in candidate Beverly O'Neill receives the most votes, putting her in a runoff with Dan Baker, but still not on ballot.

April 11, 2002|NANCY WRIDE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Cinderella write-in campaign by termed-out Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill proved formidable by Wednesday, forcing a runoff election June 4 with Vice Mayor Dan Baker.

Final results from Tuesday's city election showed 27.5% of the vote went to O'Neill, 24% to Baker, and 22% to Norm Ryan, author of a proposition that cut utility taxes.

Ryan's close finish to Baker was almost as surprising as O'Neill's upset victory. A runoff election is required if none of the candidates wins 50% of the vote.

O'Neill's name did not appear on the election ballot because a voter-approved 1994 term limits law created a two-term cap for all Long Beach elected officials. For the same reason, her name will not appear on the June ballot.

The law allowed for an incumbent to run as a write-in candidate. But because write-in victories are rare, the flock of veteran consultants working on other campaign bids viewed O'Neill's as a long shot.

Write-In Outdoes Top Fund-Raiser

"Can you believe it? It's exciting," O'Neill said Wednesday as a television crew waited to interview her. "I'm thrilled with the results because it ... shows that, if people want someone enough, they will take the extra steps to vote."

From the start, Baker was the top fund-raiser and the favorite of handicappers. He won the endorsement of the police union and city employees.

He was also backed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a Washington-based political action group that finances and supports gay candidates for public office.

If Baker wins in June, Long Beach will become the nation's largest city with an openly gay mayor, said Jason Young, spokesman for the Victory Fund.

Although his being openly gay was not an issue in the race, the Victory Fund contacted major media to highlight what it views as important progress.

Long Beach's estimated population of 461,500 dwarfs by seven times that of Portland, Maine, which currently is the largest city in the country with an openly gay mayor, Young said.

Baker, a Long Beach City Council member since 1999 and a U.S. Customs officer before that, was undaunted Wednesday by O'Neill's margin of victory.

"Clearly, she got a lot of votes," Baker said, referring to her 27.5% share of the vote. "But the good news, from our perspective, is that 73% of our voters said it's time for a new mayor. So I need to reach out to that 73% to let them know what I'm about."

Candidates Divided on Federal Breakwater

Supporting a study of the pros and cons of lowering the breakwater off the Long Beach coast, and a vow to address serious environmental issues spawned by the Port of Long Beach, will distinguish him in the June race, Baker said.

Asked about port issues and the breakwater, O'Neill said she believes no one issue defines a race and that citizens vote for, not against, candidates. She opposes study of the federally owned breakwater, citing a position by the Army Corps of Engineers that essentially said, if it's not broke, don't fix it.

O'Neill said her campaign will continue to spread the word on how to write in a vote. A popular mayor, she was endorsed by the influential Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and by the Press Telegram.

The mayor has a salary of $98,900, but no vote apart from veto power. Yet the mayor makes commission appointments, and in Long Beach the most powerful is the Harbor Commission, which governs the port on a $1-billion annual budget with no city oversight and no term limits.

Baker said he would focus on solving the problem of air pollution from coke dust generated by the port, which has resisted measures to contain the dust, citing the cost. Air-quality officials have ordered the port to clean up coal facilities in the harbor, noting that coke dust contains carcinogens.

In other notable Los Angeles County municipal races, growth and utility taxes were issues in several campaigns.

In Lancaster, a meager 14% voter turnout gave Mayor Frank Roberts and Councilman Henry W. Hearns their fifth terms. Ed Sileo, a planning commissioner, won a council seat vacated after Councilwoman Michelle Idelman chose not to seek reelection.

In Santa Clarita, two incumbents and a newcomer won council seats.

The top vote-getter, Frank Ferry, a high school teacher and incumbent councilman who coined his own nickname--Road Warrior--ran on a record of building city roads. Ferry, incumbent Lauren Weste and Marsha McLean are all known for their ties to local community organizations.

In El Segundo, the proposed expansion of Los Angeles International Airport was a major issue in the election for two council seats. Incumbents Kelly McDowell and John Gaines, who oppose expanding the airport, won decided victories over William V. Wegner and Spencer Shakstad, who had expressed a willingness to negotiate with expansion planners.

Voter approved measures extending utility taxes in South Pasadena and Lawndale.

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Times staff writer Garrett Therolf contributed to this report.

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Final Returns

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