It’s 5 for District 5--Candidates Try to Build Name Recognition in L.B.

Times Staff Writer

It enjoys the city’s lowest crime rate. And its neighborhoods are made up of single-family homes, comfortably buffered by most of the city’s parkland.

All of which may explain why the race for the District 5 City Council seat has been without much in the way of new ideas. The five candidates competing to succeed Ernie Kell, who last spring won election as full-time mayor, have promised nothing more radical than to maintain the status quo.

‘Popularity Contest’

So, voters will go to the polls Nov. 8 to decide what thus far has been a popularity contest--even though the winner will fill the ninth council seat and may have a hand in fashioning a new majority.


Image and name-recognition are of such concern to three of the candidates--insurance businessmen Tom Stewart and Craig Alan Spongberg, and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Les Robbins--that each has hired a professional campaign consultant. They say they expect to spend from $40,000 to $70,000 to win what is a part-time job paying $16,875 a year.

Candidate E. Gerrie Schipske, a health-care executive, plans to spend a more modest maximum of $27,000--about $1 per registered voter. It is unclear how much retiree Rolland B. Samuelson will spend. For the past few weeks, he has been hospitalized because of a heart condition and unavailable for comment.

The four active candidates have also adopted the same door-to-door campaign style that proved so successful for the popular Kell, who served 13 years as the district’s representative, the last time running unopposed.

Robbins, who took a 2-month leave from his job as a deputy, has been walking through neighborhoods and meeting voters six to eight hours a day. As of late last week, he had covered 19 of the 41 residential precincts.


Robbins’ campaign consultant Lynda Pope said: “All the volunteers in the world aren’t going to help you if the voters haven’t met you. It’s going to boil down to name recognition, it’s going to boil down to voter contact.”

Kell’s endorsement would be a tremendous boost to any of the candidates. But the mayor last week said he has not yet decided who, if anyone, he will publicly back.

Kell Denies Connection

Some candidates have grumbled that Kell’s former election spokesman, Jeff Adler, is representing Robbins, and they fear that could indicate where the mayor stands. But Kell denied any connection, saying Adler “is an independent businessmen” who can work for whomever he wants.

Stewart--a former firefighter and owner of an insurance agency--has already won support from several heavyweights, including the Long Beach Board of Realtors, which often backs its endorsements with contributions, and the Downtown Long Beach Associates, which represents downtown merchants. He also has the backing of unions representing police, firefighters and city employees--all of which typically contribute money and equally essential campaign volunteers.

But Stewart also enjoys the backing of two longtime council members: Tom Clark, who has often differed with Kell, and Jan Hall, who ran against Kell for mayor.

A $100-per-person fund-raiser for Stewart, slated for Oct. 17, will contribute 25% of the proceeds to Hall, who says she has a deficit of about $40,000 from her unsuccessful mayoral bid.

Kell and Hall have typically been on opposite sides of loosely knit council coalitions. But since Kell became mayor--a position that carries no vote--the coalitions have not been well-defined.


Union Endorsements

Robbins also has some strong endorsements. He is supported by the United Auto Workers, the Teachers Assn. of Long Beach, the AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education, and the 800-member East Long Beach Preservation Committee.

Candidate Schipske is endorsed by the Long Beach Area Citizens Involved.

On citywide issues, the four active candidates support the council’s continued trend toward lowering the number of residential units allowed per lot, and all lean toward creating new developer fees.

They also agree that the city needs to hire more police. But none believes that voters will approve new taxes to increase the size of the police force. Robbins was the only candidate to say he would vote for such a tax. Stewart recommended that the city hire more traffic officers--"They pay for themselves” by the tickets they write, he said. Spongberg said he would like an east-side police station financed with money from drug seizures.

The only new concept is being raised by Schipske, who proposes consolidating the fire and police departments into a public safety agency, similar to one in Eugene, Ore. Officers and firefighters would then become public safety officers, and the city could save money by cutting management and using fire stations for police substations, Schipske said.

Idea Is ‘Insane’

Robbins and Stewart scoff at the idea.


“That’s absolutely insane,” Robbins said. “This is not 1950, or 1940, or 1930 and this is not Eugene. In 1988, we’re dealing with sophisticated methods of fighting crime and with sophisticated methods of fighting fires.”

Stewart said a similar proposal to consolidate the Los Angeles city and county fire departments was considered 10 years ago but “it never flew.” The idea, he said, “is absolutely ridiculous.”

To attract voters, Spongberg is counting on the name-recognition of his family, owners of a North Long Beach mortuary since 1927. His grandfather, Virgil Spongberg, is a former vice mayor. Spongberg, 34, has been involved with Boy Scouts, Little League and parent-teacher associations.

Stewart, 57, hopes voters will recognize his city involvement. He has served seven years on the Redevelopment Agency, and previously served on the Economic Development Agency board. He is president of Retired Police and Firemen of America in Long Beach and a member or past president of various other law enforcement organizations and civic clubs. Among other things, he is a lifetime honorary member of the Police Officers Assn. and a founding member of CrimeStoppers.

Worked for Sen. Green

Robbins, 39, emphasizes that he frequently deals with legislators and their staffs through his job as president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents about 5,500 law enforcement employees in Los Angeles County. He is a member of various law enforcement groups and, along with his wife, he is involved with the American Youth Soccer Organization.

Robbins also has been heavily involved in political campaigns for both individuals and issues. He has campaigned for Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana and state Sen. Cecil N. Green (D-Norwalk), among others. Robbins has worked for ballot issues such as Proposition 71, which would have relaxed the state’s constitutional spending limit and made more money available for education and other programs, and Proposition 61, which would have limited government officials’ salaries. Earlier this year, Robbins said, he considered seeking the Democratic nomination for the 54th District Assembly seat held by Republican Paul Zeltner. But he decided to run for City Council instead.

Schipske, 38, touts her role as chairwoman of the Long Beach Board of Health and Human Services, as well as her experience in government. Before entering the health-care field, she worked as an administrative assistant to a former city manager. She also has served as a legislative analyst and assistant in Congress, and served on the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. Schipske is partly counting on her name recognition from another recent bid for public office, when she lost in a race for the Long Beach City College Board of Trustees.

Samuelson, 76, a retired car businessman, has been the least active candidate. But he has a long history of community involvement. He is president of Friends of the Long Beach Parks and an active member of the Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, among other groups.

Les Robbins


sheriff’s deputy

Rolland B. Samuelson


retired car businessman

E. Gerrie Schipske


health-care executive

Craig Alan Spongberg


insurance agent

Tom Stewart


insurance business owner