Sparks Fly in Last Days of the Burbank Council Race

Times Staff Writer

Burbank City Councilman Robert R. Bowne barely disguised his anger last week at a standing-room-only forum for City Council candidates.

“I am dismayed and disappointed that, in the last few days of this election, some of the more desperate candidates have chosen a different path,” he said, asserting that he had staged a fair and positive campaign.

The election is Tuesday.

Until last week, a lack of timely local issues and a slate of inexperienced challengers had resulted in a relatively polite and uneventful two months of campaigning.


Incumbents Bowne, 42, an attorney, and Mary Lou Howard, 49, are defending their council seats against six challengers.

Contention Emerges

But Thursday’s forum at the Golden Mall Pavilion mirrored some of the hostility that has distinguished previous local campaigns.

Bowne’s expressed “dismay and disappointment” referred in part to the comments of challenger Marji Brannan, 35, a communications consultant, who blasted him for what she called his insensitivity to the desires of residents on development issues.


Bowne also took issue with a campaign flyer sent by Howard, in which, he said, she misrepresented one of his votes on the council and took credit for one of his ideas.

Howard later accused Bowne of being “paranoid.”

Other opponents at the forum also criticized Howard for seeking a third term and for accepting $1,000 in contributions from developers who had projects before the council.

Howard, who is expected to be reelected, later said her record showed that the residents were her priority.


Calmer Than Last Time

Despite last week’s volleys, the contest in no way matches the drama of two years ago, when Howard set out to defeat two incumbents by backing three relatively unknown challengers.

Howard said then that she resorted to encouraging candidates to challenge her colleagues because the council members were moving ahead with development without any planning and were showing no consideration to residents.

The Howard-backed candidates defeated the incumbents.


This year, Howard did not sponsor any candidates to run against Bowne.

Besides Brannan, the challengers are Edwin LaRocque, 35, a computer clerk; Michael McDonald Jr., 28, a center for the Los Angeles Rams; Jules Kimmett, 65, a janitor and the most vocal gadfly at many of the city’s public meetings; Margie A. Gee, 51, a former Burbank Airport commissioner, and Lud Grande, 62, a tax preparer.

No challenger is thought to pose a serious threat to the incumbents, but the sheer number of candidates could force Bowne or Howard into an April runoff between the top two vote-getters. Bowne and Howard have the endorsement of all city employees’ unions and several citizens’ groups.

The biggest issue brought up during the campaign has been Towncenter, a proposed city redevelopment project that collapsed last year when one of the anchor department stores withdrew.


Interest in Site

Several of the challengers faulted Bowne and Howard for the project’s failure, but the effort to blame the council has failed to take hold, in part because several developers, including Walt Disney Inc., have since expressed interest in developing the site.

(This, too, has turned into a campaign issue because Howard has taken credit for first contacting Disney, and Bowne has said it was his idea.)

Howard, a former mayor and 8-year veteran of the council, is the most visible politician in Burbank. She has raised about $34,000, more than any other candidate, for her campaign.


Bowne, who was appointed to the council 2 1/2 years ago, may have been hurt by attacks from Brannan.

She has criticized Bowne, who has raised almost $24,000 in campaign contributions, for failing to support a proposed moratorium on high-rise buildings and for voting against an initiative that would have required developers to pay a fee for the development of local arts and culture. She also criticized him for his role in the demise of the Towncenter project.

“He’s said he did not know what direction the citizens want the city to go, and I believe that’s true,” Brannan said.

Although Brannan, appointed in the past by the council to its blue-ribbon committees, has secured the support of some community groups, she has pledged to keep her campaign spending at $500, which is not considered enough to pose a serious threat to the incumbents.


Plagued by Past

Of the challengers, Gee has the most name recognition. But she was damaged last year when the City Council removed her as Burbank representative to the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, saying her combative manner on the board was hurting the city’s credibility.

Gee is saying little about airport issues in her campaign and instead is criticizing what she calls “rampant” redevelopment in Burbank, which she says is not benefiting the taxpayers.

McDonald, who has lived in Burbank 24 years, has raised the most of any challengers: $2,036. McDonald has said he would ask the people what they want on issues such as the Towncenter before making a decision.


Grande and Kimmett, who have kept their campaigns at less than $500, are considered long shots, although Kimmett, who frequently uses baseball imagery in his campaign speeches, gets the loudest applause at candidate forums.

LaRocque, who raised $736, has based his campaign on what he calls the council’s inability to bring Towncenter to fruition.