Wilder's Seat Lures Lively Cast of 14 Council Candidates

Times Staff Writer

Incumbent Marc Wilder's decision to forgo a possible third term has lured a remarkable assortment of candidates--some might be called characters--to the District 1 race for City Council.

In all, 14 candidates are seeking the $12,600-a-year downtown-area seat that Wilder has held since 1978 but is now relinquishing so he can earn a better living.

The office-seekers are as diverse as their district of gleaming office towers, immigrant tenements, crowded schools and senior citizen apartment buildings.

The field includes two attorneys and an engineer; two legislative aides, a probate referee and a property appraiser; a self-employed anthropologist, a maker of chicken pies, and a supplier of bumper stickers who lives with exotic birds and flies a giant American flag.

Candidates range in age from 28 to 73. The youngest, Jenny Oropeza, a former California State University, Long Beach, student body president, notes that Wilder was only 29 when first elected. The two oldest--Paul W. Diefenbach Sr., 73, and Frank B. Hudzik, 69--are retired but hope to remain active in community service. "I don't want to just sit around and watch TV," Hudzik explained.

Latino Candidates

If either Oropeza or Mary Alice Romero is victorious, then the council would have its first Latino member. In 1980, Latinos constituted about 20% of downtown residents, and city officials say that percentage has increased.

Without Wilder in the race, three candidates are running as if they were the incumbent, and a fourth, John Carl Brogdon, is citing previous experience on the Culver City council as a job qualification.

Joy Melton, a full-time aide to Wilder for the past three years, said she has spent that time helping to solve the district's most pressing problems, attending no fewer than 300 Neighborhood Watch meetings. Don Phillips, a two-term councilman defeated by Wilder eight years ago, said he worked well with a majority of the current council as it was getting the downtown's $1.3-billion economic redevelopment off the ground in the 1970s.

And Evan Anderson Braude, the stepson of longtime Long Beach Rep. Glenn M. Anderson (D-Harbor City), has received financial backing from a virtual who's-who of local business and politics--a perquisite often reserved for incumbents who have performed well. Braude, who cites his parentage often and without apology, said he knows a majority of the council and, as a result, would be immediately effective at City Hall.

Braude's campaign expenditures will reach $25,000 by the April 8 primary election, he said. Another attorney, Ron Batson, also said he will spend about $25,000 by election day, two thirds of it his own money. And Melton figures to spend about $20,000. Eight candidates have reported little or no campaign expenses.

Crosswalk Crusade

Several are focusing heavily on a single issue or theme.

Thomas (Ski) Demski, whose talkative green parrot, Mike, is his campaign manager, is continuing a two-year campaign to force the city to repaint its crosswalks. Roosevelt (Rose) Hobbs is asking that the city treat its large gay community with more respect and become involved in the fight against AIDS. O. B. Powell wants "to speak for the poor, the elderly and the handicapped" because she is all three. And Daniel Rosenberg, an "urban anthropologist" who patrols supermarket parking lots handing out IOUs to prospective voters, has developed a plan to protect the rights of renters without rent control.

In a novel tack, Allen Taylor, a retired Navy officer who recently worked as an engineer in Saudi Arabia, said he would greatly expand the 321-acre downtown redevelopment zone, then use redevelopment's special powers to condemn slum dwellings. This would eliminate hangouts for criminals, he said, while providing relocation benefits to the displaced poor.

Like Taylor, most candidates agree that crime is the district's No. 1 problem--one that leaves the city's main business and tourist district a virtual ghost town after dark. Nearly all said they would bring the beat cop back to downtown, and several said they would beef up the Police Department's anti-drug efforts. For at least a decade, District 1 has had more serious crime than any of the city's eight other council districts, police statistics show.

Other major issues include parking problems in the district's eastern area near the seashore and in the apartment-dominated neighborhoods on the periphery of the business district; anemic retail sales, especially along Pine Avenue, the city's traditional Main Street; and the city's strict earthquake ordinance, which requires restoration or demolition by 1992 of large residential buildings, containing about 3,000 dwelling units. Most of those buildings are in the downtown area, the city's oldest section. Several are designated city landmarks.

Earthquake Ordinance

Brogdon, who owns a threatened apartment, has demanded repeal of the earthquake ordinance, an act Melton, Oropeza and Taylor said would be irresponsible. Several candidates said they would work to extend the ordinance's deadline or attempt to arrange financial help for affected residents, many of whom don't have the $25,000 or more it would take to structurally reinforce the pre-1934 buildings covered by the ordinance.

Most candidates said the city should provide solutions to parking problems rather than simply ticketing violators. Several suggested city parking lots and garages, diagonal parking, and parking near the beach by resident permit only.

Recent changes of residence by Melton, Braude and Oropeza, who moved into the 1st District within the last year, have also been hit hard by candidates who have lived in the area for years. Phillips' move back to the district has also been disputed.

Batson, a district resident since 1977 and a lifelong resident of Long Beach, said, "I think voters are extremely concerned about the motives of candidates who are seeking opportunities rather than being truly interested in resolving the problems of this district."

In response, Melton said she had been on the waiting list for an apartment at the Villa Riviera for a year when she finally secured one last spring. Of her critics, she said: "Some of those folks have given absolutely nothing to the district in their lifelong residence. I've been very involved citywide."

Had Been Looking for Home

Braude said he had been looking for a home in Long Beach since he began to practice law here five years ago.

Oropeza said she lived less than a mile from her current District 1 apartment for most of her 10 1/2 years in Long Beach.

And Phillips, whose 1st District residency Demski unsuccessfully challenged in court, said: "I've had five kids go to school in the 1st District, I've owned a business in the 1st District for over 30 years, I've been president of the downtown businessmen's association, I've been a registered voter in the district since 1972. How am I a carpetbagger?"

Most candidates suspect that no one will gain a majority of votes April 8, forcing a two-person runoff on June 3. Only 3,755 votes were cast in the District 1 primary in 1982, and a similar number of votes will be split 14 ways this time.

Any election in District 1, Wilder and others have said, rides on the decisions of senior citizens, who make up almost one-third of all downtown residents and who have traditionally cast a majority of the district's votes.

The candidates agree that whoever wins will be faced with staggering problems as a council member. For despite a binge of office, hotel and apartment construction that has removed the downtown from a federal list of economically depressed urban areas, District 1 remains poor and highly transient. The area's median household income in 1980 was $8,735, and only 20% of its residents owned their homes.

Candidates for the district's four-year council term are, in alphabetical order:


As a councilman, the 46-year-old Batson said he would apply his lawyer's logic to what he calls "an unhappy district."

"We see a lot of construction, but we don't see an improvement in the quality of life here," he said. "People are afraid to leave their homes."

At least 85% of all criminal cases he has handled as a general practice attorney are drug related, and that calls for a redeployment of police for "an all-out war on drugs," Batson said. He also would crack down hard on vagrants who trespass, panhandle, or violate city health codes, he said.

Batson is supported by Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach), who said in his endorsement that several of Batson's opponents "have recently moved into the 1st District just to run for this seat," and by conservative Assemblyman Dennis Brown (R-Signal Hill).


First of all, Braude, 38, allowed that he is his father's son.

"People believe, and I think rightfully so, that like father like son," said Braude, the stepson since age 8 of Democratic Rep. Glenn M. Anderson. "I will represent constituents like he represents constituents. He's my mentor."

An attorney for government agencies on local, state and federal levels for 8 1/2 years, Braude has a general practice but specializes in government law.

He accused city officials of letting neighborhoods deteriorate in anticipation of redevelopment.

The city has also allowed several families to illegally crowd into small dwellings, creating slums, he said. And it has been "malicious" in its enforcement of parking restrictions, especially for street sweeping. The city ought to build neighborhood parking garages and charge residents a monthly use fee, he said.

A council seat, Braude acknowledged, could be a political steppingstone. "There are a lot of people who think that," he said. "It might be that I can go on to something else."


Brogdon, 57, is alone in saying he would repeal the earthquake ordinance, and he is focusing heavily on the measure.

"It's draconic . . . legislative overkill," he said. It will destroy landmark buildings and force some of the downtown's most stable citizens to leave, he said.

Also, his goal as a councilman would be to bring to downtown "a first-class movie, on a first-class block with first-class safety--making downtown a desirable location," he said.

Professional experience as a supervising appraiser for the county assessor helps qualify him for the council, as does free-lance writing on government affairs, Brogdon said.


Demski, 56, a former coal miner and heavy-equipment operator, has had fun with his campaign.

At a photo session, a parrot struck a pose upside down on the candidate's head. Demski also composed campaign ditties about "civil rights and civil wrongs" and "letting the flag fly free" on the 132-foot flagpole in front of his bumper sticker business on Lime Avenue.

His campaign, however, is serious, Demski said. He has been trying to persuade City Hall to repaint crosswalks for two years, ever since he rescued two terrified children trapped by traffic near his shop, he said. Twenty-six people were killed crossing Long Beach streets last year, he said.


Diefenbach, a railroad ticket agent for 40 years, said he is running to keep "outsiders" from winning the election and to crack down on street criminals.

"I know the 1st District," said Diefenbach, a Long Beach resident since 1926. "Then these other birds who don't know the first thing about it move in here. That burns me up."

Diefenbach, a decorated World War II veteran, said the Police Department needs to enforce vagrancy laws.

"I don't like old ladies getting picked off by these bums that hang around the grocery stores," he said. "I believe in the battle for peace as well as the battle for war."

Diefenbach ran unsuccessfully for the council in 1972. As quartermaster for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 279, he assists veterans with loans, medical arrangements and other matters.


Hobbs, the first council candidate to run primarily on gay issues, said he would work for local laws to prevent discrimination against homosexuals.

Hobbs, 45, said apartments have been denied to gays because of their sexual preference, that city officials have turned an annual gay pride parade into a political football and that the city Health Department is callous to requests for information about AIDS.

"The City Council doesn't want to give anything to us," Hobbs said. "We should be given the same rights because we pay the same taxes."

As a councilman, Hobbs said, he would push for city grants for AIDS treatment and research.

Hobbs, the only candidate to favor rent control, is a shipping supervisor at a local agency that trains physically handicapped people.


Hudzik retired in 1984 as a welding supervisor at Todd Pacific Shipyards in San Pedro at age 67. Ever since, he's been looking for an an endeavor "to keep myself active." He decided in January that the City Council was it.

"I'm not involved in any activities and that's why I want to start doing something," he said.

If elected, Hudzik said, he would "try to help senior citizens and the Asians, the blacks, and the younger citizens."

The downtown's greatest need, he said, is for more government-supported housing for senior citizens.


As departing Councilman Marc Wilder's aide, Melton, 42, has been the 1st District's only full-time contact at City Hall since April, 1983. She says that experience sets her apart from her opponents.

She has received the backing of both the firefighter and police unions, which she calls "the most important endorsements in the city."

Secretary and administrator of a medical office for 19 years, she said she is "street smart . . . and involved. And I've certainly performed well."

She has participated in the city's Museum of Art, Historical and Heritage societies, and is a member of the Willmore City Heritage Assn., she said.

Redevelopment, Melton maintained, must be refocused so that many of the downtown's old buildings--"its real jewels"--can be rebuilt instead of replaced. Pine Avenue should be reconstructed along an "Old Town" theme, she said.

Melton has received the support of Wilder, who said he will endorse her before the primary.


Though only 28, Oropeza stresses her experience as a political leader.

She served two terms as student body president at California State University, Long Beach, a year as a state university system trustee, and has been an aide to Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon (D-Alhambra) for two years.

Oropeza also was co-chairman of the unsuccessful 1984 drive to elect Long Beach school board members by district, rather than citywide.

"I'm involved with everything from registering voters to Women's History Month, so I get to know what people's concerns are," she said.

She favors police foot patrols, parking solutions and "respect for our historic buildings," but breaks with most other candidates in supporting construction of low-cost housing and strict limits on campaign contributions.

She is endorsed by the 13-group Council of Long Beach Organizations and individually by several of its member groups, including the 2,000-member Teachers Assn. of Long Beach, the Long Beach Chapter of the National Organization for Women, and the highly active Long Beach Area Citizens Involved community group.


Phillips, 60, is in the process of selling some of his retail chicken pie shops to concentrate on pie manufacturing. That, he said, gives him more time for other things, including another run for the City Council.

Elected in 1972 and 1975, Phillips was routed by the 29-year-old Wilder in 1978, placing third in the primary. He is running on his council record.

"I made the motion to build the Convention Center, I made the motion to build the shopping center, and I seconded the motion to build the marina," he said. "But they've been trying to write my name out of all that for eight years."

Phillips said the city has to be more sensitive to the needs of small downtown businesses, including his own, and residents.

Those people, including the ones threatened by the earthquake ordinance, "suffer the ills of redevelopment with none of its protections," he said.


In her campaign to raise the municipal consciousness, Powell would create a central directory of services for the handicapped.

Paralyzed from the waist down in 1961, the 62-year-old Powell has discovered city services one by one over the years.

Powell, who has spent much of the last 25 years as a volunteer worker for a variety of community programs, said she would also represent the elderly and the poor. Her sole monthly income is $555 in state and federal disability assistance.

She was local chairman of the 1981 International Year of the Disabled effort, has sat on the city Handicapped Appeals Board and was a volunteer social worker at California State University, Long Beach.

She has been honored as the Volunteer of the Year by the Long Beach Area Council of Churches and as an "Outstanding Woman" by the City Council.


The 49-year-old Romero, a speaker of Spanish in an increasingly Latino district and city, said she thinks the City Council has lost touch with its constituents.

Neighborhoods are neglected, housing needs for poorer residents are slighted and children remain uneducated to the harmfulness of drugs, she said.

"While the other candidates are talking about getting involved, I'm already involved," she said.

She serves on the local school attendance review board, is an emergency translator for the Police Department, a volunteer at the 911 emergency center and a block captain for Neighborhood Watch.

She also helped coordinate recent Hispanic Career Awareness Week activities at Poly High School and is on the city's Cinco de Mayo committee, she said.

She is proud that she is the only full-time woman Latino probate referee in the state. In that full-time appointive position, she appraises the assests of estates for tax purposes.


Trained as a medical laboratory technician, educated as an anthropologist, possessor of a teaching credential in adult education, Rosenberg, 56, is a self-styled community activist running on a platform of renters' ights.

Rosenberg, who said he has been self-employed since leaving a job as a high school janitor in 1978, said he personally discovered the perils of Long Beach apartment living 2 1/2 years ago, when his rent was increased from $265 a month to $410.

He opposes rent control in its usual form, favoring instead a plan through which prospective renters would get from landlords a statement about rent increases and tenant turnovers for the previous year. The landlord would also provide a "good faith" projection of his anticipated expenses. After that, if the landlord imposed a steep increase, a city arbitration board could be called upon to rule on its fairness.

Explaining that platform, Rosenberg has solicited voters' pledges of support and given them his own "IOU" commitment to "affordable housing," he said.


An up-through-the-ranks retired Navy lieutenant, Taylor, 45, said he is eager to reduce crime by identifying the buildings where criminals live, then using the city's condemnation power for redevelopment zones to force the cleanup or demolition of those slum dwellings.

Displaced residents of such apartments would get relocation benefits up to $4,200 and thus would not be victims of the city actions, Taylor said.

As a councilman, Taylor said, he would also introduce an ordinance to force parents of minors who spray graffiti to pay for its cleanup, and he would let "panhandlers and drifters know they aren't welcome" through strict enforcement of laws.

Taylor, who drew 10% of the District 1 vote in 1982, is an electrical engineer. He said he would work full time as a councilman.

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