Patterson Won’t Try a Dornan Rematch : Former Congressman Appears Primed to Enter Contest for Supervisor

Times County Bureau Chief

Sounding ever more like a candidate for the Orange County Board of Supervisors, former congressman Jerry M. Patterson declared Wednesday that he will not seek a 1986 rematch with Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) but feels “really good” about running for the board seat being vacated by Supervisor Ralph B. Clark.

“I’m ruling myself out of any partisan office,” Patterson told a news conference at the county Hall of Administration in Santa Ana. “I want to return to Orange County on a full-time basis.”

Dornan defeated Patterson, a Democrat, by an eight-point margin last November in a bitter contest that drew national attention and was the state’s most expensive political race.

Since then, Patterson, a Washington-based lobbyist, had been considering whether he should try to recapture his congressional seat. During Wednesday’s announcement, however, he cited the wear and tear of air travel to the East Coast and a desire to see constituents “eye to eye every day” as key reasons for not wanting to return to Congress.


A five-term former House of Representatives member from Santa Ana, Patterson indicated that if he had to make a decision today about declaring for the nonpartisan board seat, he would be a candidate. But he said he is waiting another 30 days to seek more advice from friends and longtime supporters.

‘Opportunity to Serve Again’

The supervisor’s post pays $55,000 annually, compared to the $75,100 salary earned by members of Congress.

“I want to caution that I could make a different judgment, but I feel really good this morning about the opportunity to serve the people once again, for maybe another 10 or more years,” he added.


As a congressman, Patterson--who was previously the mayor of Santa Ana--represented three of the four cities located in the 4th Supervisorial District: La Palma, Buena Park and part of Anaheim.

He declined comment on Dornan’s performance in Congress, noting that he is seeking at least some GOP support for his possible supervisorial candidacy. Dornan was unavailable for comment.

“I don’t want to be partisan anymore, at this time,” Patterson said.

However, he stressed that it is not healthy for county government to be dominated by one political party. Patterson, who for five years was the county’s only Democrat in the House, pointed out that Clark, who is retiring, is the board’s only Democrat.


“I think that county supervisor is a nonpartisan position. . . . To the extent that it is not going to be kept nonpartisan, I think the next best bet is bipartisan,” Patterson said. “To have all five Democrats or all five Republicans on the county board of any county is in my sense more partisan than it is bipartisan, and certainly it’s not nonpartisan.”

The only candidates currently in the race for Clark’s seat are Republican mayors Don Roth of Anaheim and Jim Beam of Orange. Democratic Party leaders have accused Republicans of attempting to dominate nonpartisan offices in Orange County, noting that Beam’s campaign is being managed partly by Assemblyman John R. Lewis (R-Orange) and other conservative GOP activists.

A recent survey commissioned by Roth showed that Patterson has 60% name recognition in the district, with Roth and Beam far behind. However, Roth’s campaign manager, Harvey Englander, said Patterson may be known as a loser because of his defeat last year, and his high name recognition among voters is not necessarily positive.

Indeed, some of Patterson’s closest associates have urged him not to seek the board seat because they think he will have difficulty adjusting to issues such as highway maintenance and jail sites after dealing with national economic policy and defense matters in Washington. Others say privately that Patterson, an attorney, loves the political limelight and will benefit businesswise from the attention he is getting, even if he decides not to run.


After losing to Dornan, Patterson joined the Washington law firm of Leff & Mason as a lobbyist representing several corporate clients, such as Great Western Savings & Loan Assn. The firm also has a Beverly Hills office, and Patterson helped open the company’s first Orange County branch, in Costa Mesa, earlier this year.

However, Democratic Party activists have been encouraging Patterson to run because he is well known and, as a congressman, built up personal good will with voters.

Clark recently announced that he would not seek reelection next year, citing health problems and a desire to spend more time with his family. He also said he did not want to subject himself and his family to a campaign based on allegations, contained in court documents, that former fireworks manufacturer W. Patrick Moriarty had supplied him with a prostitute. Clark has denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, Superior Court Judge David Carter is left as the only Democrat publicly exploring a bid against Dornan. Assemblyman Richard Robinson of Garden Grove, the county’s only Democrat in the state Assembly, has not ruled out running against Dornan and says only that his name will be somewhere on the 1986 ballot.


Carter said Wednesday that he respects Patterson “for his extremely personal, difficult decision” not to challenge Dornan. The jurist said he intends to hold “neighborhood” meetings in the 38th Congressional District to assess his political strength in a race against Dornan.