In a long election night for incumbents, Councilman Warren Harwood Tuesday survived a surprisingly stiff test while Councilwomen Eunice Sato and Jan Hall fell short of the required majority in two bitterly contested races that must now continue through a June 3 runoff election.
Lawyers Ron Batson and Evan Anderson Braude will also be in a June runoff after pulling away from a 14-candidate field in a race to see who will replace retiring 1st District Councilman Marc A. Wilder.
In all, 26 candidates vied for four $12,600-a-year seats on the nine-member City Council in what was apparently the most expensive municipal election ever held here. Only Harwood emerged a clear victor, and he was stunned and politically staggered at the end.
Citywide, 24,943 of 75,421 registered voters, or 33.07%, went to the polls, up about 9% from the 1982 primary, when council members from odd-numbered districts were last elected. Members from even-numbered districts will be chosen in 1988.
Mayor Ernie Kell, who received nearly 80% of the 5th District’s votes in 1982, was unopposed and has been reappointed to a fourth term on the council.
For all other council members it was a tough campaign.
Even in Harwood’s 9th District, where the incumbent had tucked a piece of paper predicting a 60% win into his shirt pocket, a large early lead evaporated. Finally, at 19 minutes after midnight, a nervous Harwood was told he would not have to face retired fire captain Ralph R. Howe in a runoff.
Howe, who has lived in the district only four months and was attacked by all four opponents as a carpetbagger, pulled a surprising 1,434 votes, 37.2%, to Harwood’s 1,973 votes, 51.2%, despite being outspent by a 2-to-1 margin.
Hall’s 3rd District race, in which she and dentist Jim Serles have raised nearly $130,000, provided the most tension during an exhausting election night.
Hall, 43, fell behind early, climbed past the 45-year-old Serles after half the votes were counted, and held a 50.52% majority--enough to avoid a runoff--with only absentee votes to be counted. It looked like a carbon copy of 1982, when Hall got 50.67% in the primary to frustrate Serles.
This time, however, Serles made up 220 votes of his 328-vote deficit with the absentee ballots to drop Hall below a majority. The councilwoman ended with 4,569 votes for 49.07% to Serles’ 4,461, 47.91%
In another standoff that felt like a win, challenger Ray Grabinski celebrated well into the night after serving notice to Sato, an easy winner in three previous races, that she would not coast through this election.
Grabinski, 42, a neighborhood activist and delicatessen owner, had walked the 7th District for nearly a year, giving sponges as gifts and grabbing endorsements from an array of special interest and community groups. He withstood the consistent efforts of Sato, who’d been virtually a full-time council member since 1975, grabbing 2,896 votes for 45.8%, to her 3,023, 47.83%.
“I expected more of a margin,” said a subdued Sato, who’d predicted at least a 2 to 1 win. “I know I have more support than Ray does, but I guess some of them thought the margin was so wide they didn’t bother to vote.”
Grabinski said his showing “typifies what grass roots is all about. . . . It shows that diverse groups can work together. If I’d just walked the precincts by myself, I’d still be behind.”
The race in the city’s downtown District 1, which had drawn a remarkable assortment of candidates, is now down to its two lawyers, Batson and Braude. Wilder aide and endorsee Joy Melton, who’d been the early favorite, finished third.
Braude, the stepson of popular Long Beach Rep. Glenn M. Anderson (D-Harbor City), was backed by big money and propelled by a 20-week, door-to-door effort. Batson, supported by Assemblyman Dennis Brown (R-Long Beach) and Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach), spent heavily from his own pocket to tell voters that Braude and others were opportunists who’d recently moved to the 1st District to run for office.
“I think the basic issue is still going to be longtime resident versus newcomer,” said Batson, who received 1,129 votes to Braude’s 1,118.
Braude criticized Batson for his “dirty” campaign. “I hope this will be a positive type campaign where we’ll be able to discuss the issues,” Braude said.
None of the four races was easy.
The heavily financed 1st District race came down to a contest between Batson, Braude, Melton and Jenny Oropeza, a 28-year-old legislative assistant who would have been the council’s first Latino member.
Money, Batson said, “will play a big role” in the general election race. “I think (Braude) can out-money me,” Batson said.
Braude raised $16,000 in one recent month and had gathered $30,000 by March 22, more than twice that spent by Wilder for reelection in 1982. Batson said he spent $25,000, most of it his own money, while Oropeza and Melton had said they would spend about $20,000 by election day.
To counteract the money-raising ability that Braude acknowledges comes from being Anderson’s son, Batson said he was going to continue to meet with neighborhood groups and use shoe leather to outflank his competition. He began campaigning last September, he said.
Batson said he and Braude aren’t far apart on most issues, so the campaign could come down to “the fact that he is his father’s son.”
Braude, who cites his parentage often and without apology, said he made Anderson his middle name eight years ago because he is proud of what is now a 30-year relationship with the congressman.
Braude said he got a number of votes by providing rides to the polls for senior citizens and the disabled. “It was 7:50 p.m. (polls closed at 8 p.m.) when we took our last ride to the polls,” he said.
While he must spend money to win, Braude said, “I think it’s not going to be as important as continuing to get out there personally and meeting people.
“I’m going to talk about the concerns of the 1st District and stay away from personal attacks,” he said. “The Anderson family has always run our campaigns that way.”
Voter turnout in the district was 5,209, or 33.7%, compared to 3,987 in 1982.
A tired Hall noted her 108-vote edge over Serles, then declared: “We won.”
She welcomed the runoff as an opportunity to press Serles on the issues, she said.
“Mr. Serles has taken no stand on any issue of significance,” she insisted. He has skirted positions on more flights at the municipal airport and on height limitations on buildings in Belmont Shore, Naples and the Peninsula, she said.
Hall also quickly claimed that “there’s been voter fraud,” and promised to consult lawyers to see what she can do about a “loose” absentee-ballot process that she insisted allowed improper voting.
“I’m blaming the process that would allow Jim Serles to abuse it,” she said. Her claims of absentee-ballot irregularities, first voiced last week, were rebuffed by city and state officials, who said Serles’ practices of collecting voter applications for absentee ballots were legal.
Referring also to about 700 stolen campaign signs, Hall said of Serles’ campaign ethics, “we took the high road, he took the low road.”
Meanwhile, an exuberant Serles, who’d capped an aggressive eight-month campaign by knocking on still more voters’ doors election day, climbed a metal folding chair at his spartan campaign headquarters in Naples Plaza and acted like a winner.
“You’ve managed to get us into a runoff,” he said to his cheering campaign workers. “If they think we’ve worked hard until now, they haven’t seen anything yet.”
Serles said that traditionally, “when an incumbent is forced into a runoff, they lose.”
A major election issue will be what Serles said is Hall’s inability to work well with her council colleagues. The district needs a representative who understands “the importance of teamwork on the council,” he said. In the final days before the election, Serles’ mailers featured the endorsements of Mayor Ernie Kell and Councilman Wallace Edgerton.
Both of the Hall-Serles campaigns, in 1982 and this spring, have set records for spending, and it seems clear that they will again solicit money from their southeastern Long Beach district’s many affluent neighborhoods. Hall had raised $64,000 by March 22, Serles $63,000.
Two other candidates, E. W. (Bud) Huber and Louis C. Mirabile, received a total of 281 votes, 3% of the vote.
Total votes were 9,414, by far the most of any district in the city, and up from 8,128 in 1982. Voter turnout was 38.8%.
It was not yet 10:30 p.m. and election results were far from final, but only about 10 people remained at the Long Beach Boulevard restaurant where Sato had scheduled what she expected to be yet another victory celebration.
By then, however, it was clear that Sato would be forced into a runoff for the first time since 1975. Sato, 64, a former schoolteacher, said she was optimistic she would defeat Grabinski, but her mood was anything but upbeat.
She talked of voters who had failed to vote, and promised to get them out June 3.
And she charged that Grabinski had spread “a lot of misrepresentation and outright lies.” Specifically, she said the challenger was less than truthful in saying she rarely provided council leadership and had lost touch with her district.
m In contrast, Grabinski, who’d been endorsed by several philosophically diverse groups, was surrounded at his party by dozens of revelers--young people, blacks, Latinos and men wearing hats showing their affiliation to the Long Beach Police Officers Assn.
“We’ve made some contacts and we’ll build on those contacts,” Grabinski said. He will attack Sato’s integrity, he said, specifically taking her to task for flyers that list supporters he said she does not have.
“We’re going to attempt to bring out the real Eunice,” he said.
A third candidate, William H. Burford, received 401 votes, 6.4%.
Voter turnout was 6,410, or 33.9%, down from 6,551 in 1982.
Incumbent Harwood, 46, a one-time political maverick who is now supported by the city’s Establishment, had predicted, conservatively he thought, that Howe would get 30% to 34% of the vote.
And that was the way the election was going for half the evening. But when Harwood’s advantage dropped from 56% to 51% with three precincts to go, Harwood refused comment until the final was in.
Howe had hoped that a mobile home park, from which he had drawn strong support, would be among those three precincts, but when it wasn’t, he said: “I did the best I could. Obviously, the people weren’t that disenchanted with Mr. Harwood. And, I was thinking that on a lot of issues we’d probably vote the same. So I wish him good luck.”
But Harwood, still angry about last-minute Howe flyers that dealt partially with the incumbent’s divorce, labeled one mailer “vicious and cowardly,” and said he held Howe personally responsible.
“I was not impressed with the way he conducted his campaign. He just made innuendoes and slurs that were not based on fact,” said Harwood of Howe.
Howe said he spent about $14,000 to Harwood’s $25,000.
Harwood said he thought some potential Howe support was scared off when the challenger criticized the Police Department and called for drug testing of officers. Howe said that was not a factor.
Three other challengers shared 11.6% of the vote.
Voter turnout was 3,910, 23.4%, compared to 3,930 in 1982.
Times staff writers Eric Bailey and David Haldane contributed to this story.