Lungren Letter Sticks to Pat on the Back

Times Staff Writer

It's not that the Long Beach City Council doesn't like its "hometown boy," U. S. Rep. Daniel E. Lungren.

Council members like him just fine. And they support him. But not all of them endorse him.

Several Democrats on the council wanted that difference made perfectly clear on Tuesday, when Councilman Wallace Edgerton asked them to send a letter to his conservative Republican colleague, congratulating him on his recent nomination to become state treasurer.

After a lively debate, council members agreed.

"I have no problem sending a letter to Lungren saying he's a nice guy," Councilman Edd Tuttle said. But forget about endorsing him, continued Tuttle, a Democrat.

To make sure the letter congratulating Lungren on his nomination by Gov. George Deukmejian is not misconstrued as an endorsement, Councilman Clarence Smith, a Democrat, suggested an addition at the end of the letter: "This is not an endorsement."

Mayor Ernie Kell, a Democrat, suggested: "Perhaps, we could put on the letter 'Confidential.' "

Tuttle liked that idea, adding: "Perhaps at the bottom of the letter, we could write 'Not for distribution.' "

Surprised at the discussion his proposal generated, Edgerton dismissed his colleagues' suggestions as "inappropriate and demeaning."

In the end, the council opted not to tack on any disclaimer.

Edgerton said afterwards that he never expected the issue to become controversial. As a matter of fact, in deference to the Democrats on the council and to avoid any potential embarrassment to Lungren, Edgerton said he discarded his original proposal to send the Legislature a formal resolution supporting the 41-year-old congressman.

"I had the votes for the resolution," Edgerton said, explaining that the four Republicans on the nine-member council supported sending such a letter to the lawmakers who must vote on Lungren's confirmation by March 1.

Kell, one of five Democrats, acknowledged that he would have provided the deciding vote. "Either one (of Edgerton's proposals) was fine," said the mayor, adding that he prefers the option the council adopted Tuesday.

Councilman Evan Anderson Braude, a Democrat, quietly walked out of the meeting before the discussion and returned shortly after the vote. He later said that he thought it inappropriate that the council, which is nonpartisan, become involved in a partisan issue.

Five residents in the audience also urged the council to not support Lungren. Some said the council should not get involved in a partisan race. Others criticized Lungren for his positions on various issues.

In response to the criticism, Edgerton said, "All this is is an acknowledgment of a hometown congressman whose integrity is impeccable . . . We're proud he's a hometown boy."

"Had it been (Democratic Congressman) Glenn Anderson, I would have done the same thing," Edgerton said.

Councilman Tom Clark, a Republican who supported Edgerton's proposal, said, "None of us are naive enough to think it doesn't help to have someone from your hometown high up."

Added another Republican, Councilwoman Jan Hall: "What we're saying with this letter is 'Good job, Long Beach person. We're proud of you."

The letter praises Lungren's support of the Crime Control Act of 1984, "a strong defense" and an immigration bill, among other things. It concludes by saying, "Your dedication to hard work, your sacrifice to public service and your devotion to your family is a sterling example for every man, woman and child.... May the year 1988 be your best ever."

Edgerton pointed out that the letter, congratulating Lungren's success as "a source of pride" for the city, eventually got an 8-0 vote. But he said he could have done without the discussion.

"I would have preferred less chatter."

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