5 Have a Stake in 4-Way Election

Times Staff Writer

As four City Council candidates bombarded their northeast neighborhoods with mailers and flyers in the final days before Tuesday's election, a fifth politician also had high stakes in the outcome: the mayor.

Ernie Kell, the district's former councilman-turned-mayor, is backing candidate Les Robbins, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, in the District 5 race. But four of his colleagues on the council are backing Tom Stewart, owner of an insurance business and former firefighter who they say has more community experience.

Kell gave up his council vote when he became full-time mayor this year, and the person who fills the vacant seat could be important to him.

The newcomer could help shape a new majority on the 9-member council. Until recently, Kell presided over a loosely knit coalition that usually provided a majority vote. But with new members on the council and a potential shift of allegiances among old members, Kell is in danger of losing control--particularly now that he does not have a vote.

And even if the incoming council member has no impact on voting blocs, he or she could affect Kell's political influence, some observers say.

"(Kell has) been able to convince the community that he has power," said Councilman Tom Clark, a political foe of Kell's and a Stewart supporter. "Having that appearance of power is very important. If he loses the 5th District, he won't look strong."

Joined in Support

Clark has been joined in supporting Stewart by council members Wallace Edgerton, Ray Grabinski and Jan Hall.

Some of Kell's supporters have tried to ensure that the new District 5 representative is on the mayor's side, according to Stewart and the two other candidates, E. Gerrie Schipske, a health-care executive, and Craig Alan Spongberg, an insurance agent.

Stewart said that Elaine Hutchison, a real estate broker, and Roy Hearrean, a developer, asked him twice during a breakfast meeting in July if he would provide "a swing vote" for Kell on an issue the mayor supports. Stewart said he told them that "it depends on the issue." Hutchison and Hearrean have supported Kell in past campaigns.

Since then, Hearrean has given Robbins a loan of $6,000 and a $150-donation while Hutchison contributed $525 to Robbins' campaign coffers.

Both Hutchison, a former Chamber of Commerce chairwoman, and Hearrean, president of an Orange County-based development company, said last week that they chose to not endorse Stewart because he did not seem knowledgeable about the district. They acknowledged that they asked Stewart whether he supports Kell's programs, but they denied asking whether he would provide a swing vote.

Also after that breakfast, Stewart said his relations with Kell changed.

"When I started running, Ernie Kell was very supportive," Stewart said. "He introduced me to people. He was being very friendly. Then, right after I said I would not necessarily support him, the coolness started."

Taken Aback

Stewart said he was taken aback by the mayor's attitude, especially since Stewart has been a strong Kell supporter. In Kell's race for mayor against Councilwoman Jan Hall, Stewart gave Kell $1,000. He even made a speech--at the mayor's request--during one of Kell's fund-raisers.

According to Stewart, after the July breakfast meeting he also lost the backing of Planning Commissioner Tony Tortorice. And political consultant Lynda Pope, who attended a campaign meeting at Stewart's home and had agreed to work for him, switched over and became Robbins' campaign manager. Pope said last week that she never signed a contract with Stewart and decided against working for him because, among other things, "he claimed support of people I know he didn't have . . . (and) he would not focus on fund raising."

Robbins said that none of his supporters "speak for me."

Kell said he has not talked with Hutchison, Hearrean or Tortorice about their support of Robbins. Kell said he decided to endorse in the race "because I live here, my mother lives here, and I care about this district" and not because he is looking to strengthen his position on the council.

But Schipske, who accused Kell of "machine politics," said the mayor's supporters "went shopping for somebody who would support Ernie."

Robbins said he has made no promises to Kell. "I don't owe anybody any allegiances. I am my own person," he said.

Show of Influence

Some observers say Kell, who faces reelection as mayor in 1990, needs to show that he wields influence, especially in the district he served for 13 years. "If you can't deliver anything, why would anybody give him money (for his reelection?)" Schipske asked.

The only other controversy in the race involved Stewart's educational background. In a flyer, he claimed to hold a degree from the University of Southern California, where, in fact, he only attended one semester. Stewart's campaign manager, Chuck Davis, took the blame for the mistake. Both said they caught the error after the flyers were distributed and the misstatement was not repeated in other printed materials.

In the last few days, Robbins reminded voters of Stewart's error via flyers and a mailer of his own.

Davis criticized the tactic and called it "a desperation ploy." He said Robbins is "avoiding the issue of who is more involved in the city, who has more experience. He has no involvement. Since he has nothing positive to say, he's running a negative campaign and attacking."

Davis was referring to Stewart's lengthy list of city activities. Among other things, Stewart, 57, is on the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency and is local chapter president of the Retired Police and Firemen of America.

Robbins, 39, touts his involvement with the American Youth Soccer Organization and with legislators and their staffs through his job as president of a 5,500-member union that represents law enforcement employees in Los Angeles County.

Schipske, 38, serves as the chairwoman of the Long Beach Board of Health and Human Services and has other government experience.Spongberg, 34, has been involved with the Boy Scouts, Little League and parent-teacher associations.

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