Personality Issue Dominates Mayoral Battle in Oxnard

Times Staff Writer

The three candidates who are generally acknowledged to be the front-runners in Oxnard's heated mayoral race appear united on many key issues.

Growth, they agree, is best controlled by revision of the city's general plan. The county-operated Oxnard Airport should neither be expanded nor closed, despite strong pressures to do both. City officials should improve services for residents instead of trying to clean up Oxnard's blemished image.

Despite their points of agreement, Mayor Nao Takasugi and his major challengers, Councilmen Manuel Lopez and Michael Plisky, are involved in a bitter campaign for the two-year office that has included such incidents as:

The smashing of a window in Lopez's headquarters, an act he called politically motivated.

Plisky's charge that a Takasugi telephone survey unfairly depicted him as a deadbeat by mentioning tax liens that had been placed on his property without adding that he'd paid them off years ago. Takasugi said the financial questions are relevant.

A Plisky press release alleging that Takasugi's Santa Barbara-based political consultant, John Davies, has an "unsavory reputation." Davies has worked for many political figures in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and on behalf of several ballot measures, including a bond drive by the Oxnard School District in April.

The jabs and counter jabs reflect the high stakes of the election. While Lopez will remain a councilman if voters do not choose him as mayor, both Takasugi and Plisky stand to lose their council seats.

Plisky, a 4-year council member whose term ends this year, heads a council minority that is convinced that the majority, led by Takasugi, is liberal, free-spending and excessively agreeable to staff recommendations.

"It's a watershed election," said Scott Bollinger, a council-watcher and candidate for city treasurer. "Regardless of the way the votes turn out, there will be a significant change in the council."

Also running for mayor in the Paul Dolan, 37, a self-employed businessman, and Oscar Karrin, 72, a retired meat cutter who frequently attends City Council meetings.

Karrin, who refuses to accept financial contributions, is affiliated with a citizens group that is seeking to establish councilmanic districts in Oxnard. To secure affordable housing for Oxnard residents, he would have the city encourage development of what he described as a "Levittown-type" subdivision of manufactured homes. He also is the only candidate who would expand Oxnard Airport.

Karrin also urges elimination of a city regulation allowing mobile-home park owners to jack up rents in return for property improvements.

Dolan is a leader in the complex class-action toxic waste suit pitting residents of the Oxnard Dunes neighborhood against a host of alleged polluters and government agencies. If elected, he said he would urge the city to sue the oil companies, developers and other parties responsible for the problem. He supports an ordinance limiting growth, and has proposed the construction of major east-west traffic arteries to relieve Oxnard's congestion.

He has raised $2,058 for his candidacy, mainly from people in Oxnard Dunes.

Takasugi has amassed a war chest of more than $68,000, while Plisky has collected $31,000 and Lopez has gotten more than $20,000, including $10,000 of his own money. All three have hired political consultants--a first in Oxnard municipal elections.

While the major candidates see eye to eye on many issues, they differ on others.

Takasugi and Lopez believe the city should actively encourage the development of affordable housing; Plisky believes the problem would be better solved by all the cities in the county working together.

Only Lopez supports councilmanic districts, which he said would increase minority representation. Takasugi said the city is not ready for council districts. Plisky said a district system would make individual council members less accountable to the entire city.

The candidates have not shied away from making personality an issue.

Takasugi's opponents portray the longtime officeholder as an ineffectual leader who lacks the aggressiveness and vision to be a strong mayor.

"He's a nice man," Plisky said. "I like him, but he's just not strong enough. He's not forceful. He's not dynamic. And he's not getting the job done. You can't just sit at a meeting and open and close it. You've got to make things happen."

Plisky, who considers himself the council's watchdog, criticizes Takasugi for not encouraging council members to question more closely recommendations from city staff members.

"He gets a script of what he says at the City Council meetings and he follows it," Plisky said. "He doesn't delve. We've never been encouraged by the mayor to discuss and debate issues, and that's the purpose of City Council meetings."

Takasugi, 66, a retired grocer, disagrees. He takes credit for helping bring a number of businesses to town, such as the Radisson and Embassy Suites hotels as well as regional headquarters for BMW and Chevron Oil.

Takasugi, who sold his family's grocery after becoming mayor in 1982, takes credit for turning the office into a full-time job. He said his opponents, who operate their own businesses, would not be able to devote the 40 hours a week that he says he spends on the job, which pays $675 a month. His opponents question whether that amount of time is necessary.

Uses Courtesy Titles

The mayor, who couches his statements in a welter of qualifiers and who is so polite that he always uses courtesy titles, believes he is "a calming influence, a stabilizing force" on the tumultuous council.

"Oxnard voters want a mayor who's a little more stable and not so aggressive," he said. "They want someone quiet who listens well and can still be fair. They want a mayor who represents the city like a gentleman."

Lopez, 61, an optometrist, said he can do just that.

Raised in Oxnard by his farm-laborer father after his mother died of tuberculosis, Lopez is running as "the candidate most qualified to lead Oxnard into the future," with 23 years on civic boards, including 10 years on the council.

Lopez said he didn't file for the race until the Aug. 12 deadline to draw attention to his campaign, which he said was inspired by a need to restructure the City Council meetings, which can last as long as 12 hours. Lopez said he would restrict public comments to a specific time, discourage council members from interrupting staff presentations and get through routine items more quickly.

Lengthy Meetings

"We start meetings at 10 a.m. and work until 10:30 at night," Lopez said. "We spend too much time on things that don't matter."

But his opponents criticized what they claim is an absence of leadership qualities in Lopez.

"I've worked with him for 4 years," Plisky said. "I've watched him operate. He's not strong. He's not aggressive."

Even Takasugi, a friend of Lopez and a longtime ally, criticized him.

"He listens well, but maybe he could assert himself more and be a little more aggressive," Takasugi said. "Maybe as a councilman he hasn't had a chance to show that he can do that and lead the group."

Lopez denied allegations that he will pull out of the race at the last moment and throw his support to Takasugi, who did not do as well as Plisky in Oxnard's Latino neighborhoods in the 1986 election.

'Lot of Time'

"I've put in a lot of time," Lopez said. "I'm not going into my office. My wife has taken off time. I have my sister helping. I never campaign for the fun of it."

Plisky, 47, a business and tax consultant, has spent a lot of time on the campaign trail. In 1986, he lost his mayoral challenge to Takasugi by 769 votes. He depicts his candidacy as an effort to jolt a complacent council into more productive debate on big issues.

His opponents characterize him as overly aggressive and prone to "staff-bashing"--chastising city employees at council meetings when their reports are not to his liking.

His opponents said he would use the mayoral post as a steppingstone to higher office. "There is talk of the Legislature," Takasugi said.

They also criticize Plisky for not being "a team player."

"He came in hating government," Lopez said, "and he hasn't changed."

'Hidden Agenda'

Lopez suggested that Plisky has "a hidden agenda" to fire City Manager David Mora. Plisky countered that the embattled Mora will have a job as long as he implements instead of formulates policy.

Plisky dismisses charges of excessive zeal as political hype. His hard-as-nails image "is an issue generated by people who don't like me. . . . They don't have a valid issue on me, and it's got to be frustrating."

Far from being too aggressive, Plisky said, his supporters "think I'm not forceful enough. When you have a majority that doesn't encourage discussion, you do what you have to do to get your point across."

All that would change if Plisky, a former record industry executive who has lived in Oxnard for 16 years, succeeds in shifting the balance of power to his allies. "Hopefully, we'd have a council that will be receptive to this sort of thing," he said.

He insists that he is not running to gain access to higher office.

"My goal isn't Plisky," he said. "My goal is Oxnard."

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