ELECTION AFTERMATH POMONA : Bryant Recall Changes Face of the Council : Government: He had promised sweeping changes as head of the City Council’s ‘new majority.’ Instead, voters swept him from office and enlarged the council.
A year ago, C. L. (Clay) Bryant was riding high as head of the City Council’s “new majority” that promised sweeping changes in city government for the benefit of the disadvantaged and downtrodden.
The council shook up city government, but not as drastically as voters did last week, when they tossed Bryant out of office, enlarged the council from four members to six, plus the mayor, and adopted a new system of electing council members by district.
Bryant will leave office shortly after the results of last week’s election are certified in a few weeks; the council will call a special election this fall to replace him, and voters will elect four other council members and a mayor in March.
Of the current council, only Councilman Tomas Ursua is assured of serving more than another 10 months. His term expires in 1993.
Ursua was clearly the big winner in Tuesday’s election. A former member of Bryant’s “new majority,” he broke with Bryant earlier this year and advocated his recall. He also supported the proposal to elect council members by district rather than citywide.
Ursua said Bryant was ousted because he had alienated so many voters with his statements and tactics. “In the last few months, the guy became a demagogue,” he said. Melody Peterson, who co-chaired the committee that worked to recall Bryant, said the public become fed up with his “bizarre statements and bullying tactics.”
Bryant had another explanation. “There was a hate group that really did a job,” he said. Bryant said he had hoped to refute what he called the lies that had been spread about him by addressing voters watching the cable telecast of the City Council meeting on the day before the election. His plans were foiled when the council voted to cut its meeting short, eliminating the customary time reserved for statements from the council and the public.
The council meeting ended in an uproar, with Bryant supporters in the audience shouting to be heard and one woman screaming obscenities.
By last week’s recall election, Bryant had become so politically isolated, he said, that he was not surprised when the results showed that voters by a better than 2-1 margin wanted him removed from office.
Bryant, 70, said he will continue attending meetings of the council until it certifies the election results and then he will retire from politics. He said the June 25 council meeting probably will be his last.
“I’ve worked hard,” he said. “I’ve had no problem with what I have done. I’ve tried to help people.”
Bryant said he prided himself on his efforts to help minorities, the homeless and the impoverished; his service to constituents in cutting through red tape, and his careful reading of budgets and legal documents to spot loopholes and overspending.
But opponents said he berated city employees, traded votes with council colleagues in back-room deals and pushed projects that were ill-conceived. Feelings against him ran so high that someone painted out Bryant’s name on his parking space at City Hall the morning after the election and painted in the number of votes against him. (Bryant’s name was later restored).
Bryant said he has no regrets about his use of blunt language, which made headlines and offended some people. He called Ursua a “Chicano gang member,” a police officer a “psychiatric case,” the mayor a “tramp” and his council colleagues generally “a bunch of mental cripples.”
“The truth is not always pretty,” Bryant said. “If somebody else doesn’t have the guts to tell the truth, I do.”
Bryant has served on the council off and on for 10 years since 1969. One of the few times he was aligned with a majority came last year, when Ursua was elected and teamed up with Bryant and Councilwoman Nell Soto. They fired the city administrator and police chief, accused the town’s “good old boys” of shortsightedness and corruption and promised a new “people-oriented” government.
The “new majority” began to fall apart after a few months. The turning point might have come when the council hired a new city administrator, Julio Fuentes, last November. Soto recruited Fuentes for the job, and Ursua became his strong supporter, but Bryant was a relentless critic.
Ursua joined the recall effort, and Soto distanced herself from Bryant by saying that she was neither for nor against his recall.
All the council members except Ursua suffered a political setback in Tuesday’s elections. Soto was badly beaten, placing fifth in her quest to become a county supervisor. Councilman Mark A. T. Nymeyer, who was seeking the Republican nomination in a state Assembly district, lost by nearly 3 to 1, and fared almost as badly in Pomona as he did in the rest of the Assembly district.
Even Mayor Donna Smith, who worked hard to recall Bryant, suffered a loss of sorts because Pomona voters approved a district election system she opposed.
Ursua said the ouster of Bryant and the new district elections will remake Pomona politically.
“The community voted for professionalism and political reform,” he said. “The community is not going back to the old days when a few spoke for everyone.”
Bryant, who also advocated district elections, said: “Now you’re going to see the little guy get elected.” Instead of having to raise money from special interests to campaign throughout a city of 120,000 residents, candidates will just talk to their neighbors, he said.
The election last week created the framework for district elections, but the City Council has not yet established district boundaries. The ordinance approved by voters declares that candidates must run in the districts where they live.
Ursua and the winner of the special election to succeed Bryant will serve until the municipal elections in 1993. Soto and Nymeyer hold four-year terms that end next April, so they will have to run for reelection in districts to retain their seats.
Two other newly created council seats also will be at stake next year, along with the post of mayor.
With the recall campaign over, Smith said, she is looking forward to a period of political calm. She noted that council members last week supported her efforts to run more orderly meetings.
Ursua said he, too, thinks more orderly council meetings are in store. “We will no longer let people rant and rave,” he said. “This guerrilla warfare is over.”
Smith said she hopes “we can begin having some boring council meetings.”
But Bryant said he is not quite finished. He said he may seek a court injunction against the city if the council approves a proposal to give three-year contracts to the city administrator, police chief and fire chief.
Bryant, who has described himself as the public’s “open window” at City Hall, released copies of the proposed contracts, which were submitted to the council in closed session last week. The contracts would provide financial protection to Fuentes, Fire Chief Tom Fee and Lloyd Wood, who is now police chief in Azusa but who has been talking with Pomona officials for months about becoming Pomona’s chief.
Bryant said the proposed agreements violate the City Charter, which says the city administrator serves at the pleasure of the council and that department heads can be removed by the administrator with council approval.
Bryant said the financial penalty the city would incur in buying out three-year contracts would be so high that the council would not be free to remove the officials as intended by the charter.
Fuentes said council members suggested that the contracts be drawn up, but that he does not know whether the council members will approve them.
Bryant said he will be watching closely. “They better not try it,” he said.