For Kent Roberts’ 45 or so supporters munching cheese and drinking wine, the surprising loss Tuesday night by La Habra’s mayor pro tem turned a planned victory party into “kind of an Irish wake.”
But Roberts was not the only one surprised by the upset. So was the man who beat him, a 23-year-old public relations consultant with no experience in public office and less than a year’s residence in the community.
Douglas J. Bystry said his victory was the result of “a lot of knocking on doors” and “a sentiment out there that people wanted a change.”
Roberts, however, attributed his upset to last-minute “personal attacks on people’s honesty and integrity.”
One other seat was up for election. Mayor William D. Mahoney, 46, won reelection, gaining the most votes.
Bystry and another challenger, Steven D. Wilder, 27, had accused both Roberts, 43, and Mahoney of paying particular attention to the interests of developers in the city. Both incumbents said they resented the implications of conflict of interest and pointed out, among other things, that the city was 98% developed.
Bystry specifically targeted Roberts, a hotel owner, for his vote on a redevelopment project that involved businessmen who are Roberts’ partners in other real estate projects. One of the partners was Roberts’ campaign finance co-director and another was his campaign co-chairman. Bystry said Roberts should have abstained from the vote, and he filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento.
Roberts said he had no financial interest in the redevelopment project, which the City Council unanimously approved. As a third-generation resident of La Habra and a man in the business of hotel development and management, it would only make sense that his friends and associates include business people, he said.
“I think he’s made the issue very clear: My honesty and integrity were in question. The results were that he got more votes than I got,” Roberts said Wednesday. “I don’t campaign against people. I’m not going to. I may be a poor politician, but I just don’t do things that way. I just tell people what I’ve done and what I stand for. I’m not out there to make promises. And I’m not out there to make reckless innuendoes and let them lay there for people to make their own conclusions. I don’t think that’s right.”
Roberts said copies of a newspaper article about the controversy, selectively highlighted with a yellow marker, were anonymously distributed to homes throughout the city the week before the election.
In another article on the same issue, the city’s local newspaper reported that Bystry said Roberts “possibly” had assured developers before they bought a property that the city would place it within a redevelopment area, allowing the developer to build with tax-free bond financing. That, Roberts said, “is a blatant lie.”
It’s difficult to fight “innuendoes and allegations” because the doubt remains, Roberts said.
Roberts came in third Tuesday with 1,455 votes. The top vote-getter Tuesday was Mahoney with 1,745 votes. Bystry came in second with 1,613, and Wilder ended as fourth with 1,356.
But even Wilder, who like Bystry had never served on a city commission or board, did not trail by far. He netted 99 fewer votes than Roberts in an election in which 3,245--or 14.7% of the registered voters--cast their ballots. And like the other candidates, Wilder also was surprised at the turnout.
‘Somebody Is Listening’
“Nobody knew me 10 weeks ago. I had $750 in my pocket,” Wilder said. “I’m very, very pleased--because that means somebody is listening.”
Wilder said he plans to run for office again. Roberts said he would not.
Bystry, co-owner of a public relations firm, and Wilder, a financial management administrator with Rockwell International, said the tallies appear to show voters either supporting the incumbents as a pair or the challengers as a pair. Roberts, owner of the Best Western La Habra Inn, and Mahoney, an attorney, said that was the image the two newcomers wanted to put across.
“It’s not the new guys versus the out guys--or us versus them,” Mahoney said. “If that was the case, they would have both won. (But) I think they tried to make the campaign that--unfortunately.”
Bystry and Wilder had campaigned door to door, while Roberts and Mahoney relied on their literature to speak for them. The two challengers pointed to what they perceive as problems in the city, such as streets needing repairs, while the incumbents pointed to improvements in the community.
As of March 22, campaign contribution reports showed Roberts had $6,970 and Mahoney $4,325. Bystry reported $1,075, and Wilder reported $750. Bystry and Wilder said their final campaign reports--which must be filed by July 31--will show they collected about $2,000 and $1,000, respectively.