As Norwalk Campaigns Get Costlier, Some Candidates Fear a Political Toll

Times Staff Writer

The price of waging a campaign for City Council here is on the way up, but some of the candidates say they are worried that the quality of the campaign may be headed the other way.

The surge in spending began last July when challenger Grace Musquiz Napolitano hired Randy Economy, the city's former public information officer, as her campaign manager for a flat fee of $11,000. In October, Councilman Cecil Green, one of three council incumbents seeking reelection April 8, countered by hiring a campaign manager of his own, Ralph Pacheco, for a fee of $11,000.

In the city's 28-year history, no candidate has spent more than $9,056, which Mayor Marcial Rodriguez spent to get elected to the council in 1982.

But on Thursday, the first day for candidates to file for office, Green, the first council candidate to register, said he would spend at least $20,000 on his campaign. And Napolitano, the second to register, said she would spend at least $25,000.

In the April election, incumbents Green, Rodriguez and Lou Banas are seeking reelection to four-year terms. The only announced challengers so far are Napolitano and former City Administrator William Kraus. Candidates have until Jan. 30 to file for office in this city of 86,300 residents.

In interviews, Green and Napolitano defended their hiring of professionals as campaign managers, something no candidate for City Council has done in at least 20 years, according to present and former council members.

Cites Reelection Statistic

Napolitano, a claims agent for Ford Motor Co. in Compton, said she plans to spend a record amount because in the history of Norwalk, no incumbent council member has lost a reelection bid.

"I decided to run to win, not just run for office," Napolitano said. She said that, because she works, she also does not have the time to counter the work of the city's two public relations officials who, she said, usually publicize the activities of the incumbents.

Green said he planned to spend at least three times more than the $6,662 that he spent to get elected in 1982 because the fourth term he is seeking would be his last, and he does not want to bow out as a loser. Green, a planning and zoning consultant for real estate developers, said he also does not have enough time to devote to a campaign, which is why he hired a consultant.

Green defended the activities of the city's public relations staff, saying, "They're doing their job, which is to report what the city is doing, not to make us look good."

While Green said he hired Pacheco because "he knows what it takes to win an election in the city," Banas said that Pacheco had lost a race of his own for the board of the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District in 1983. Pacheco, a member of Walter W. Nelson & Associates of Norwalk, a management consulting firm, said that, while he did lose that election, his candidate this time around is Green, whom he called a "horse of a different color."

Fear of Dirty Campaign

But Banas and Rodriguez, who are seeking office without the help of paid campaign managers, said the increased spending might result in a dirty campaign.

"I think it's an unfortunate trend that will do nothing but escalate political costs in the city and it will also inflame the rhetoric," Banas said.

Banas, who spent $4,346 to get elected in 1982, said he did not plan to hire a campaign manager because he does not need a paid consultant to tell him how to win an city election.

Rodriguez said he believes that professional campaign managers are "overkill" and that his campaign manager, Planning Commission Chairman Luigi Vernola, is working as a volunteer.

In separate interviews, the three incumbents seeking reelection said they were disturbed by the presence of Economy in the Napolitano campaign and charged that the former city official was seeking political revenge, which Economy denied.

'They're Vulnerable'

Economy, who worked as the city's public information officer from 1982 to 1985, said the incumbents are upset because "they're vulnerable and we know where they're vulnerable." He said he resigned his city position after his job was reclassified and qualifications for a new position were upgraded, an account confirmed by city officials.

Economy, who now runs his own political consulting firm, said the way he lost his city job was "the most horrible thing that ever happened to me." He added that beating one of the incumbents would "make victory sweeter."

In the campaign to date, Napolitano has repeatedly attacked the incumbents for spending $87,000 on travel and meeting expenses in the 1984-85 fiscal year. The three incumbents blame Economy for raising the travel issue because of his familiarity with how business is conducted at City Hall.

Banas, however, predicted that Economy would provide little help for Napolitano's campaign. "He was not a highly competent city employee for us and I would not expect him to be a highly competent campaign manager," Banas said. Economy replied that he produced award-winning publications on behalf of the city and that Banas' remarks were "absolutely ridiculous."

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