A prominent citizen was explaining why he has endorsed Councilwoman Jan Hall for mayor.
"Jan Hall has been my friend for some years and asked for my help," he explained. "Because she's my friend, I said, 'Of course.' "
He paused. His voice lowered. He said he could not say any more or be quoted by name.
A small businessman, he said he might have trouble in future dealings with City Hall if he were to involve himself more deeply in the "real horse race" for Long Beach's first citywide election for a full-time mayor.
As presumed front-runners Hall and Mayor Ernie Kell seek endorsements for the April 12 primary, some potential supporters are hedging their bets or, like the businessman, trying to lie low.
They say they are concerned that support for either candidate risks alienating the other one. No matter the outcome of the election, the loser--maybe both if a dark-horse wins the mayor's seat--will remain on the City Council after the contest.
"One of them will be mayor without a vote. The other will be a council member with a vote," said Harbor Bank Chairman James H. Gray of Kell and Hall. "If you are a developer and want to gain city support, there is no reason to make a choice."
Asking for Decisions
But Kell and Hall have been asking key groups and individuals to make that choice, collecting lengthy lists of endorsements. And a third candidate, public relations executive Luanne Pryor, says she has won backing from several politically active groups.
With the filing deadline on Thursday, they are among nine candidates who have already declared their intentions to run for mayor.
The race promises to be the city's biggest and most expensive. Kell said he intends to spend $400,000 in the primary election alone to fuel his professionally managed campaign. Hall has said she will probably raise somewhat less, but will make up the difference with a large corps of volunteers.
The race is officially nonpartisan although the two major candidates are already calling on the traditional bastions of support of their respective parties. Hall is a Republican and Kell is a Democrat.
Kell, who serves as the council-appointed, part-time mayor, already has three big union endorsements. He lists the 450-member Long Beach Fire Fighters, Local 372; the United Auto Workers with its approximately 11,000 members at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach and the California School Employees Assn.
In the case of the firefighters--traditionally a politically potent group--the mayor spared no effort. Kell and his wife, Jackie, visited all of the city's 22 fire stations on all three shifts--66 stops in all--handing out baked goods. "It did impress the troops," said Harold Omel Jr., president of the firefighters' union.
Kell also boasts strong downtown business support. His list includes the current and three past presidents of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and the chairman of Downtown Long Beach Associates, a key business organization.
Two council members--Warren Harwood and Clarence Smith--two water commissioners, three city planning commissioners and three harbor commissioners have also endorsed Kell.
Although the mayor nominates commission appointees to the City Council, Harbor Commissioner C. Robert Langslet said his endorsement of Kell was unrelated to his appointment. "I'm supporting Ernie because I think he's done a good job," said Langslet, who is a Republican.
Among the many names on Hall's endorsement list are Councilman Tom Clark, banker Gray, Cultural Heritage Commissioner Rita Woodbury, development attorney Charles Greenberg, California State University Trustee Mariantha Lansdale, several state legislators and David Dominguez, president of the Hispanic Business Assn. Chamber of Commerce.
'Just Real People'
Hall said she is seeking to add to her list because "every name you have is a name that helps another voter make a decision." She describes her endorsers as "just real people."
Pryor said she has endorsements from the 500-member Beach Area Citizens Involved, which she heads; the 730-member Long Beach Area Citizens Involved and the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters, a coalition of environmental groups.
While not exactly the kind of organizations that will result in huge contributions--LBACI plans to contribute $1,500, or 1.5% of Pryor's fund-raising goal--the groups could supply door-to-door manpower to woo voters.
LBACI President Sid Solomon said his members will help Pryor set up district organizations. "We're running coffee parties in every district for LBACI members and friends," he said.
Many noteworthy groups, however, have either not yet endorsed or do not plan to get involved in the race.
The Long Beach group of the Sierra Club, for instance, will likely not get involved because "I don't think there's any real hard environmental questions that would have us up at arms," said Conservation Committee Chairman Robert Lamond.
The Lambda Democratic Club, one of the city's most prominent gay organizations, is still weighing which candidate to endorse. President David Newell said members are split. Some favor Pryor while others are impressed with Bud Huber, an acknowledged gay man who has declared for mayor.
"Kell is a Democrat and we're a Democratic club, although Kell has opposed us on many issues," Newell said. The mayor, Newell added, was the only council member who refused to meet last June to consult on a city ordinance banning job discrimination based on sexual orientation. Kell ultimately voted for it, as did Hall.
While the Hispanic Business Assn. Chamber of Commerce has not endorsed, its president, Dominguez, said he backs Hall because of her leadership abilities. Dominguez said his job as assistant to the general manager and protocol officer at the Southern California Rapid Transit District, where Hall is president of the board of directors, had no bearing on his decision.
Councilman Clark said that Long Beach is in a new era of "hardball politics." He added: "Developers, builders don't want to be hurt. There are things that are going to be adverse to them if they are not going with the winner."
Clark said he has endorsed Hall because she "can provide stronger leadership" than Kell.
Harwood said he backs Kell because "he's the only candidate who can demonstrate he can work with the council." And Smith, the council's only black member, said he backs Kell because "he has a better understanding of the problems of all of Long Beach."