The City Council chamber was packed. Churchgoers came in force to support a proposed expansion of the First Church of the Nazarene in an Anaheim neighborhood.
The public hearing, which also brought residents fearful of attracting more smog-belching automobiles to their quiet enclave, had all but served up the political consternation, divisiveness and personal infighting that has long marked Anaheim council nights.
But if the audience came looking to ignite a fiery debate among some of their normally obliging council members, they were surely disappointed.
Things are changing in Anaheim.
This is the same council, after all, whose mayor earlier this year asked the Orange County district attorney’s office to investigate the actions of three of his colleagues over the selection of a new city manager. It is also the same council which for years had divided itself into neat voting blocks.
But on the night of the public hearing, one by one, council members took the microphone and quietly voiced their approval for the church expansion. Ironically, they talked of uniting neighborhoods around church institutions and the need for harmonious relationships. But for the speech-making, it was over before it started.
Even Mayor Fred Hunter and Councilman Irv Pickler, just weeks after slugging it out in one of the most personal mayoral election fights in city history, were voting together.
The most noticeable change took place on election night, when former Anaheim City Manager and Fire Chief Bob D. Simpson, a Hunter ally, ran away from a pack of candidates to win a council seat. Simpson’s victory, coupled with Miriam Kaywood’s failed attempt for a fifth term, shattered a regular voting majority--Kaywood, Pickler and Tom Daly--that often left the city’s strident mayor and Councilman William D. Ehrle in the minority.
Now there is word that, over a Jolly Roger breakfast of muffins and coffee less than two weeks ago, Hunter and Pickler made peace, at least for now.
“The election that we had was one of the worst we have ever went through--it was the meanest,” Pickler said, recalling the bitter fall campaign that disintegrated into an exchange of personal attacks.
“We sat at breakfast and discussed where we’re going. I said, ‘Fred, as long as you take me into your confidence we can work together. I won’t always agree with you.’ ”
Pickler and Kaywood had long criticized Hunter for excluding his council colleagues from key discussions regarding city projects.
“He wants to bury the hatchet and so do I,” Pickler said. Hunter said he called the meeting so they could “air our differences.”
“We want to run the city as a business, not like the clown circus we’ve had here,” Hunter said. “We’re talking to each other. It’s gotten so that I want to go across the street (from his downtown law office) for the council meetings.
“You will not see 5-0 votes out there every night, and we are not going to show up out front and punch buttons, but I see a real business-type atmosphere.”
This newfound harmony comes at a crucial time for the city as massive projects are in full swing. Ground has been broken on the $100-million sports arena, and on Tuesday the council embarked on an environmental impact study of a proposal to bring a $3-billion, second Disney attraction to Anaheim.
“I won’t stand for monkey business!” Hunter said in an interview. “You are going to see gentlemen running the city.”
Some, including Allan B. Hughes, Anaheim Chamber of Commerce executive director, warn that it may be too early to make declarative statements about the council’s behavior. But Hughes also sees signs of change.
“Things seem to be running more smoothly,” Hughes said. “They seem to be accomplishing more in less time. A great deal that seemed like political oration is decidedly absent. It’s awful early, though. They all may be just feeling their way.”
Hughes said he believes Pickler will continue to be an independent voice on the council and will not be a rubber stamp for the mayor. In fact, Pickler continues to register the only votes against continuing work on the arena project. And he has not ruled out another campaign for mayor.
Much of the credit for the new working relationship is being pinned on the quiet presence of Simpson.
Because he joined his campaign with Hunter’s, Simpson’s election had been seen only as providing the mayor with a powerful swing vote. Although Simpson has remained noticeably silent on council nights, he is being counted on to bring experience and a stabilizing force to city government.
“Simpson has handled himself with dignity,” Daly said. “He has brought a problem-solving approach that has helped.”
Simpson, who pledged to bring unity to government during his campaign, said there is “no more anger or hostility.”
“It may have been just the chemistry,” Simpson said. “Change causes retrospection among other members. We have agreed to respect each other’s opinion.”
But, he said, the change should not be interpreted as the coming of a new political coalition.
“I am not about to be part of a three-vote power block.”
Daly, who has been considered a key swing vote in hot debates, said he has grown tired of having to explain the council’s not-so-proud reputation.
“We’re doing whatever we can to avoid the personal conflicts,” Daly said. “I was elected to do a good job. I think I’ve done that. Have the other council members always done that? Sometimes not.”