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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Runoff Will Decide Eaves' Successor

Longville and Gonzales vie for a supervisor seat in S.B. County. Baca is a winner for Assembly.

March 04, 2004|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

The race to replace a San Bernardino County supervisor convicted of corruption will be decided in a November runoff between a onetime ally of the disgraced supervisor and a Fontana councilwoman who has turned that relationship into a campaign issue.

Assemblyman John Longville (D-Rialto) and Fontana City Councilwoman Josie Gonzales were the top two finishers in the primary election to replace former Supervisor Gerald "Jerry" Eaves, setting the stage for what is expected to be a bruising runoff battle.

The two lawmakers have already exchanged campaign barbs and have vowed to pull no punches in the runoff.

In San Bernardino County's 62nd Assembly District, Joe Baca Jr., the son of Rep. Joe Baca (D-San Bernardino), trounced David Roa Pruitt, chief of staff for San Bernardino Mayor Judith Valles, and Walter Hawkins, a school board member, for the Democratic nomination. Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans in the district. Longville is losing the seat because of term limits.

Baca will now face off in November against Republican nominee Marge Mendoza-Ware, a Colton school board member.

In the neighboring 63rd Assembly District, the semiofficial results released Wednesday showed Bill Emmerson, a Redlands dentist, with a slim lead over Elia Pirozzi, a real estate executive from Rancho Cucamonga, for the GOP nomination. The seat, in a heavily Republican district in the northwest region of the county, is held by Robert Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga), who is leaving the post to run for the state Senate in November's general election.

But Emmerson's lead of about 130 votes could evaporate Friday when county election officials count nearly 15,000 absentee and provisional ballots. The Republican nominee will square off with Democrat D'Andre McNamee, a small-business owner from Upland.

Like the campaign for the county supervisor's post, the two open Assembly races have been hotly contested, with candidates lobbing salvos in mailers and radio and television ads.

The campaign for Eaves' seat on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors has centered on a series of scandals that has marred the county's reputation. Most of the 10 candidates have promoted themselves as having the integrity to restore honesty and pride to the county.

In January, Eaves pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy for failing to report the free Las Vegas vacations he received from an Orange County businessman who was seeking a county permit for a billboard project. Eaves was the highest-ranking county official charged in a series of scandals involving several county officials who took bribes in exchange for government contracts and permits.

Longville was a longtime Eaves ally who publicly defended the supervisor after he was indicted.

During the campaign, Gonzales spent thousands of dollars in radio and television ads to portray Longville as an Eaves crony who is tainted by the same scandals.

The roughly $220,000 she spent exceeded Longville's spending by about $70,000, and nearly $130,000 of it went to radio and television ads. Longville led Gonzales by about 650 votes in the semiofficial results.

Longville, who called the ads unfair and distorted, has fired back at Gonzales, criticizing her for funding her campaign in large part with $207,000 in loans, which she can repay with campaign contributions received after the November elections.

"That means that somebody is going to fund that campaign, but we don't know who it is" until after the race is over, Longville said.

In the 62nd District Assembly race, Baca Jr. outdistanced his closest competitor, Pruitt, more than 2 to 1. Baca attributed his strong showing to unrelenting campaigning by supporters and family members. Baca and Pruitt were nearly even in the fundraising race.

"My family was just my backbone in this campaign," he said.

Baca also believes he succeeded because he refused to respond to campaign charges made by Pruitt with attacks of his own.

"I think people are tired of dirty politics," he said. "They want to know who you are and what you are about."

Andrew Acosta, Pruitt's campaign manager, said he believes Baca won primarily on the reputation and name recognition of his father, who ran unopposed in the congressional Democratic primary Tuesday in many of the same neighborhoods. In fact, campaign signs for the congressman and his son were posted next to each other throughout the Assembly district.

In the 63rd District Assembly race, Emmerson, the former head of a political action committee for dentists, raised more than $400,000 in the primary, leading all other candidates by a wide margin.

But he was forced to go on the defensive in the final weeks of the campaign, when he and his campaign staff were caught on tape talking about creating a false endorsement flier and targeting churches with campaign material. Emmerson admitted that his staff had made prank calls to a Pirozzi answering machine. Pirozzi sought to capitalize on the scandal by distributing audiotapes of the conversation to reporters.

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