Campaigning With Clint : Mayoral Races in Tiny Seaside Towns Don't Usually Attract Worldwide Attention. Candidate Eastwood Wishes That Were the Case in Carmel

Mark Stein is a Times staff writer.

Each day, a small throng of tourists gathers near the intersection of 5th Avenue and San Carlos Street in Carmel, auto-focus cameras slung around their necks and self-conscious grins fixed on their faces. These days, however, their concentration centers not on Clint Eastwood's restaurant, the Hog's Breath Inn, but on a small, inconspicuous, gray-stucco storefront next door. This is Eastwood's drab mayoral campaign headquarters, and if the stakeout is successful and the tourists are lucky, they just might be blessed with a glimpse of The Candidate himself.

"There he is! Ooooo! Ooooo!" exclaimed one woman recently.

"Where? Where? Where is he?" her friend asked.

"Beige sport coat."

"Just gone by?"

"Yeah."

"Oh!" said the friend, without a whiff of disappointment. "My fleeting touch with fame."

There are days when Eastwood never shows, although no one seems to know for sure if that's because he's out of town or simply out of sight. On the afternoons when he does come strolling down the street, usually alone, often on a casual campaign walkabout, it's tough for even the most cynical, celebrity-hardened Carmelite not to notice.

For one thing, there is the man himself: At 55, Eastwood is tall, slender, remarkably handsome and usually dressed in a casually elegant style. For another, there is his effect on people: Wherever he goes, people are there waiting; whenever he stops, crowds tend to gather.

Eastwood has been drawing more crowds than usual of late. He made headlines around the world Jan. 30 when he launched a campaign to become the next mayor of Carmel, the tiny, arts-obsessed beach town where he has lived for 14 years. He faces three distinctly different opponents. Incumbent Mayor Charlotte Townsend, 61, is an earnest, friendly, sincere "local neighborhood lady" who conducts her campaign by knocking on doors and preaching against progress. Paul Laub, 41, is Townsend's opposite--a brassy, funny, energetic entrepreneur who sometimes arrives for meetings in a flashy, silver 1937 Bentley drop-head coupe. Last on the ballot is Tim Grady, a 27-year-old dishwasher and self-described environmentalist who, when he is not hitchhiking across the country, lives in Carmel promoting harmony with nature and the Indian way of life.

These three candidates, however, are not what brought an army of reporters to Carmel, answering the call for details on the city's election: It's Citizen Clint who's the main attraction. For weeks after Eastwood announced, reporters of every stripe could be seen conspicuously wandering around Carmel's tree-lined streets, poking their heads inside the chichi shops on Ocean Avenue, jotting furiously in notebooks and interviewing everyone in sight. At times the crush of reporters was comical, with the Sacramento Bee following the London Daily Star following the Monterey Peninsula Herald.

But for the most part, there's not much to see. Signs are strictly regulated, so there's almost no physical indication of a hotly contested political campaign. About the only exception, aside from the understated (and uniform) VOTERS REGISTER HERE placards in some shops, is the front window of Ocean Avenue Realty. There, in tasteful array with pictures of million-dollar houses, sits a copy of the Jan. 30 edition of the local newspaper, the Carmel Pine Cone, with its easy-to-see banner headline: "Clint Runs for Mayor."

Two blocks away, one of the city's 37-or-so art galleries has filled a display window with a new masterpiece--a cowboy sitting at a desk and loading his gun behind the nameplate: "Mayor, City of Carmel." The tourists who gather around the picture agree that it was not painted with the current grandmotherly incumbent in mind. Other merchants have also sought to cash in on the new tide of tourists. One restaurant introduced a pasta entree, "Spaghetti Western," while Eastwood pal H. E. (Bud) Allen was offering a new libation at his It's Bud's pub: a concoction called "Clint's Breath," made by blending 7-Up, vodka and cranberry juice in a glass-stemmed mug, then adding a golf-ball garnish. Any person willing to pony up $3.50 can keep the mug and the golf ball.

Merchants aren't the only people to have a little fun with Eastwood's new endeavor. The local newspapers have been flooded with variations of Eastwood's most memorable line--"Go ahead, punk, make my day"--from "Sudden Impact," the last movie chronicling the extra-legal exploits of renegade San Francisco police officer "Dirty Harry" Callahan. Mac McDonald, managing editor of the weekly Pine Cone, finally pleaded in print for them to stop. "If I hear another 'Make my day' take-off, I'll scream," he cautioned, "or worse yet, write a long, involved editorial on the sewage capacity of (Carmel Sanitation District) facilities."

Nonetheless, the jokes continued to fly. David Maradei, a councilman aligned with the incumbent mayor, has often been playfully serenaded by his post-office co-workers, who are given to whistling the theme from the early Eastwood shoot-'em-up "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." Pine Cone columnist Michael Gardner asked in print if Eastwood's favorite film is "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte." San Francisco Examiner columnist Bill Mandel hinted at President Reagan's simian co-star in the "Bonzo" films when he observed that Eastwood, having starred in the comedy "Every Which Way But Loose," "is not the only politician to have worked with a monkey."

Others, not least "Doonesbury" cartoonist Garry Trudeau, have chosen to play off the nameless-gunslinger character Eastwood has assumed in several Western movies. Mayor Lowell Smith of St. Helena, Calif., offered Eastwood this slice of pun-laden advice: "You may find that it will take a 'Fistful of Dollars' to overcome 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' in California politics."

Even candidate Laub shrewdly cashed in on the celebrity of his most famous opponent. In his Ocean Avenue souvenir shop, he offered a "free" Clint-for-Mayor T-shirt--with a drawing of the business end of a revolver and the slogan "Make My Day"--but only with the purchase, for $11.95, of a second shirt promoting his own candidacy. Sales have been brisk, he said.

All the hoopla dismays Eastwood because he thinks it distracts his fellow Carmel residents from the substance of his campaign. His adoptive hometown is at an ideological crossroads, and he wants to help decide which way it should go. But all that the outside world seems to care about is whether he'll wear a six-shooter strapped to his hip at City Council meetings--and whether he wants to run for President someday.

"I've always been low-key," he said after revealing his mayoral bid. "I would rather low-key it and keep it a local issue. I don't think anyone wants a sideshow. I don't take anything frivolously."

As far as any political ambition beyond Carmel's City Hall, Eastwood flatly, and frequently, denies it. "I tell you something, my interests are in Carmel--it's the city I've lived in for some time, it's the city I love," he said once. "That's where my political interests start and stop."

Indeed, his reasons for running appear to be based on local concerns. For one thing, he tangled with the current council when he sought to build offices next to the Hog's Breath Inn, a discreet landmark at the end of a long, narrow alley. He eventually sued the city over what the suit called arcane planning laws, although the two parties later settled out of court and Eastwood is proceeding with his plans. The actor is also nettled by bad publicity the city has received because of the council's fervent anti-growth philosophy, including its tendency to sue neighboring jurisdictions over residential and commercial developments within a rather sizable territory it considers its "sphere of influence."

Since declaring his candidacy, he has steadfastly declined to talk about anything except the issues facing the city. These include perennial Carmel debates on the interrelated questions of tourists, business development and shortages of both parking and water. Eastwood sums up his postion by decrying the "negative attitude" and "kill-joy mentality" of current civic leaders toward tourists and local businesses. He has noted sardonically that tourist money will account for nearly two-thirds of the city's $6-million budget this year.

Ironically, the election debate has also grown to include Eastwood himself as an issue--and whether, as mayor, he would attract even more tourists than he already does.

"By definition, a famous person is not a normal person," sniffed Jean Grace in a letter to the Pine Cone, which functions as a sort of community debate hall, where the candidates and their backers sling ink at each other. "As kindhearted and well-meaning as he may be in person, a world-famous actor in the political limelight of Carmel-by-the-Sea does nothing but attract the thundering hordes."

Thundering hordes is one of the kinder phrases used by some residents to describe the tourists who jam the town, sometimes literally by the tens of thousands on busy summer weekends.

Eastwood at first shrugged off the question. "I've lived here many years, and I know some people have come here to see me. (But) maybe some people have stayed away because I'm here," he joked during one campaign address. "Maybe it balances out." That quip got a big laugh from the Monterey Bay Republican Women's Club, most of whose members do not live within the Carmel city limits and thus cannot vote in the April 8 election.

Later, Eastwood took the issue more seriously. While campaigning, he has politely declined to sign autographs (though he has been careful to smile and add, "Thank you for asking"), and he has tried to avoid out-of-town reporters so that he can devote more time to local newspapers and television stations. The idea, he said, is to focus voter attention on local issues--and the current administration's handling of them.

"The whole question of 'Will he bring more tourists?' is one more example of the negativism (of incumbent city officials)," he said. "Rather than talk about what they've done, they say, 'Clint's going to do this' and 'Clint's going to do that.' It all gets back to the negativism of the city."

In fact, incumbent Mayor Townsend talks plenty about what she feels she has accomplished during her two consecutive two-year terms as mayor (a nearly full-time job that pays $200 a month). But it is difficult for her to ignore Eastwood's candidacy when television news crews are, at times, literally waiting in line to interview her and when print and radio reporters from as far away as London and Sydney have kept her up nights with ceaseless requests for interviews--and for Eastwood's unlisted telephone number.

A popular hangout for Clint-stalkers has been the brick-and-redwood courtyard of the Hog's Breath Inn. The Hog's Breath, which Eastwood owns with restaurateur Walter Becker, comprises a small restaurant and an even smaller pub, separated by a shady split-level courtyard that seems at first glance like someone's patio. The look is rustic (on one wall of the restaurant is a painting of Eastwood in one of his Western roles, squinting down the barrel of a handgun), and the atmosphere is casual, not unlike that at a neighborhood barbecue. When Eastwood makes an appearance, as he did to celebrate one successful campaign speech, he usually stays only long enough to huddle with his friends and courteously flirt with a few out-of-town women.

For the most part, Eastwood has made himself scarce, so a big share of the interviewing falls on the three other candidates. In one bustling 15-minute dash, for example, businessman Laub, a particularly energetic and agreeable candidate, was photographed at his office for Rolling Stone, went home to be photographed for Us magazine, then drove over to his T-shirt shop to meet with journalists from the Sunday Times of London--all while talking with a reporter for a Southern California newspaper.

Some local residents can't understood the attention--"We don't get it; what does everybody want?" asked one bewildered shop clerk--but the aspiring officeholders take it all graciously in stride. "It's a giggle," Laub said later. "If you can't do nothing about it, you might as well like it."

What all of that interviewing uncovered was that the four candidates offer Carmel voters four very different personalities from which to choose.

There is Townsend, who says she fell in love with Carmel when she arrived as a first-grader and has grown to love it more each year. She stands on her record of selective progress--rebuilding the old church that serves as City Hall and upgrading city recreational facilities while continually resisting additional commercial development. The net result, she says, is a unique beach community that is pleasing to its residents and offers visitors a retreat from fast foods, chain stores and garish overcommercialism.

Her opponents in the business community charge that she never says "yes" to new development proposals. But she answers, "Well, I'm proud of that. It's what we don't have that attracts people in the first place and keeps them coming back--and makes them want to live here."

There is Laub, who has owned several businesses in Carmel since 1972 but who moved within the city limits only in January, so he could qualify to run for mayor. He offers himself as a can-do candidate who would create a more attractive business climate in Carmel by cutting away a lot of carefully wrapped red tape.

"We should treat the tourists as a God-given bounty . . . and treat them as we like to be treated when we travel," he said, referring to the revenue generated by tourists and used to fund a litany of city services, from the beloved Harrison Memorial Library to the popular Sunset Community Center. He added, with equal parts bluster and blarney, that "I will return free enterprise to Carmel. . . . I will bring Carmel back into the United States."

And then there is Grady, who's lived in Carmel for 10 years. Grady promotes not only a halt to any new development but also the undoing of much of the development that already has taken place. A delight to out-of-state reporters keen to talk with a colorful Californian, Grady suggests that the city organize its own organic garden to avoid pesticide-tainted foods. He also supports the cultivation of wildlife inside city limits "so that going outside would be like a religious experience."

"Eastwood has lent this (election) national--international--attention, so we can set an example of a way of life for the whole world to live," he said of his post-election plans. "I will tell everyone to use their energy--money or whatever--to promote love and peace."

In the middle of all this sits Eastwood, angling to position himself as the moderate--a reasonable alternative to the conservationist ethic of Townsend and the laissez-faire rhetoric of Laub. All three are registered Republicans, and all three have campaigned in the time-honored fashion: by walking precincts. Grady has said he would introduce himself to voters by "hanging out."

Eastwood's style on the stump is impressive, a fact that privately worries advisers to Townsend, who is an earnest, engaging, enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable campaigner--but not a glamorous movie star.

Eastwood comes across as authoritative--but not authoritarian--and displays a quick wit that lets him sidestep sticky questions. When asked at one affair if he would, as mayor, support local animal-protection groups, he substituted a joking retort for a direct response: "I love little animals, let me tell ya. That's not politics talking, either; I don't go around kissing people's dogs just to run for office."

That line got a big laugh, as did his answer to a query about his campaign fund raising. "How is it being funded?" he said, repeating the question at a Republican Party luncheon. "Well, I had a free lunch today. That's a start. Thank you for your contribution, by the way."

It was a quick out to a tough issue: his own considerable wealth. A small bit of his personal fortune has paid for his campaign headquarters; he is the only candidate to have one--or to think he needed one. The money question also cropped up when he retained Eileen Padberg, a veteran Costa Mesa political consultant with conservative Republican credentials, to query Carmel voters by telephone before deciding to join the race. That was perceived by some as a pushy, big-city tactic and did not sit well with many people who still want to live in a neighborly little village.

His Hollywood background has proved to be an asset as well as a liability, at least with some voters. While Maradei, the councilman opposed to Eastwood, wisecracked about Eastwood's glittery show business connection--"I tell you what really unnerved me: At the candidates' forum, Clint had his hair done and the mayor didn't"--others see Eastwood's industry experience as proof of his administrative abilities. "Let's face it: Clint is no dummy and one heck of a businessman," Woody Mark wrote in a note to the Pine Cone. "When you can produce, direct, and act in Hollywood box-office films, you know the business world."

In any case, East wood can be extremely charming in person. At one campaign appearance, prim, proper, gray-haired Republican ladies giggled and chattered like teen-agers while waiting to say hello and get an autograph. "It's all so fun and exciting," gushed Jean Canada, vice president of the Monterey Bay Republican Women's Club. "Sitting next to him, I could not eat. I'm calling it the Clint Eastwood Diet."

Certainly his platform is broad enough to capture a fair portion of votes. His intention is to appeal both to homeowners and business owners, so he's adopted the slogan, "Bringing the Community Together."

His highest priority, he said at one appearance, "is to alleviate the fear of the residents . . . about how the business community is going to gobble up the residential community. It is just not true. It's not going to happen." He said the specter of overcommercialization is resurrected at every election by Townsend and others simply as a way to scare votes out of residents.

"I don't think it's a fair thing to do, to use (merchants) as villains in the drama, to get the vote," he said. "They're there; you can't just ignore them. You have to be an officer of the whole community. . . . You have to be for everybody. That's what it's all about as far as I am concerned. I don't think that's being done; I don't think it has been done the last four years."

Such talk undoubtedly appeals to local merchants--maybe too much. There was talk that some business owners who live outside the city were planning to try to register to vote in Carmel by listing their businesses as their residences. In an apparent attempt to discourage such activity, copies of the relevant state elections code sections banning the practice are displayed in high-traffic public buildings.

As an example of the division between residents, business owners and city officials, Eastwood cites what Carmel residents refer to with a roll of the eyes as "the Ice-Cream Fiasco." Last summer, when the last fast-food restaurant lost its lease, the City Council refused to allow a take-away ice-cream stand to occupy the spot. Council members said they were merely trying to conserve water in a perpetually dry city. Others, however, suspected snobbism was afoot, noting that a tourist brochure nags in boldface capital letters: EATING ON THE STREET IS STRONGLY DISCOURAGED.

The ice-cream battle and the controversy about tourists was covered in the Los Angeles Times, and the story was picked up by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. A discussion many locals considered a trivial tempest thus became the headline heard 'round the world: "Scrooge City." That imbroglio is debated to this day.

"It's amazing how this ice-cream thing sort of took over. I've had people write me and send me articles and clippings from all over the world about this," Eastwood said at a public forum. "At first it was funny, then after a while you started thinking, 'Wait a second. If the energy being expended on this ice-cream problem is . . . how (city officials) regulate their time, we're in really bad trouble, because we have some important things that I think are much more important than this ice-cream deal."

Carmel has long lived with a devilish dichotomy when it comes to tourists and the merchants catering to them. Tourist money helps fill the city treasury, but the tourists' very presence threatens the pleasant ambiance that attracts them--and that attracted most of the residents. In letters to the Pine Cone, some residents have wondered how any of the candidates could cope with the dilemma of attracting visitors without pandering to them.

"I don't want ice cream but I do want tourists," wrote one pained voter, Rita Firestone Seger. She asked: "Is there a mayoral candidate who is not an extremist, who is running for 'the right reason' and who can maintain this delicate balance?"

Without doubt, Carmel must be the most complicated city of 4,709 people on Earth. Virtually everything is carefully regulated and closely scrutinized to preserve the town's unquestionably quaint character. Neon signs are illuminata non grata , for example, and commercial building proposals are routinely denied permits because the city decides the windows are too big or the siding is not sufficiently attractive.

Carmel employs its own "city forester," who attentively ministers to the estimated 45,000 trees crowded inside the one-square-mile city. A book issued by the Carmel Business Assn. (the city, quite pointedly, has no chamber of commerce) notes with obvious pride that "not so much as a bush can be cut down without permission of the City Council." Carmelites are proud that many pines and cypresses grow in the middle of some streets without being disturbed.

Townsend believes her approach is the right approach. She reminds everyone who is interested that Sinclair Lewis himself begged residents in the '30s: "Don't let the Babbitts take over Carmel." She also quotes liberally a form of anti-commercialization scripture from a history book, "Carmel at Work and Play," that she always carries with her.

Indeed, for political candidates in Carmel there are not 10 commandments, but only one--the preamble to the city's 1929 zoning ordinance: "The City of Carmel-by-the-Sea is hereby determined to be primarily, essentially and predominantly a residential city wherein business and commerce have in the past, are now and are proposed to be in the future subordinated to its residential character. . . ."

A poster bearing this hallowed ideal hovers prominently--and permanently--above and behind the City Council in its chambers. The words rest roughly where an altar once stood--a bit of symbolism that may not have been intentional but is certainly not inappropriate. Each candidate for mayor pledges allegiance to the '29 law at every opportunity, though, as in most things, the measure of fidelity lies in interpretation.

This is not to say that Carmelites are letting the campaign interfere with every part of their lives. Far from it.

During one particularly frantic day, after a morning taken up by the crush of city chores and an afternoon consumed by five consecutive news interviews, Mayor Townsend called a brief halt to the hubbub of activity on the City Hall steps.

It was 4:30, she announced, and in Carmel neither time nor tea wait for any man.

So while her campaign co-chairmen, Bob Campbell and Bob Irvine, sat on the steps to spin funny stories for anyone happening by, Her Honor graciously walked among the assembled throng serving raspberry tea.

Eastwood's style is a bit more formal: holding small neighborhood meetings and campaigning door-to-door by himself. However, that style of small-town, one-on-one campaigning is not easy to do when you're one of the most recognizable people on Earth, as a brief swing through downtown Carmel showed.

Heads turned and traffic slowed as he walked past the colorful storefronts in the company of a lone reporter. Stopping to talk with people, he seemed to want sincerely to share his views--while most only wanted his autograph.

As he rounded a corner, he ran across a Los Angeles television news crew that had been staked out for several hours. He stopped for a brief interview, then paused again as the star-struck interviewer took some souvenir snapshots for himself. Meanwhile, another crowd of tourists gathered, smiling and taking snapshots of their own.

"It won't always be like this," Eastwood said, ducking into a small side street for privacy, headed toward one of the city's woodsy residential regions, where there are no bright lights and no tourists--just voters. "It happens around here (in the business district) because there's a camera right there. When there are no cameras and no crowds, I don't have any problem."

But his brisk pace was interrupted yet again, this time by a young passer-by startled to discover herself face to face with Clint Eastwood. She smiled nervously and asked for his autograph. He politely declined.

Starting off down the street once more, he looked back at the reporter.

"I have to go now-- OK ?"

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