ELECTIONS / 61ST ASSEMBLY DISTRICT : GOP Rivals Outspending Pomona's Smith


Pomona Mayor Donna Smith, who has declared that she will not seek reelection next year, is finding the odds heavily stacked against her bid to advance to the state Assembly.

Smith is running in the Republican primary in the new 61st Assembly District. She is being outspent by her two rivals, and most of the district's 127,833 registered voters live outside her political base.

The district takes in less than half of Pomona. The voting strength of the district is in Ontario, where candidate Gus James Skropos serves on the City Council, and in Chino, where the other Republican contender, Fred Aguiar is mayor.

Skropos and Aguiar have concentrated their fire on each other, apparently believing that it's a two-man race, leaving Smith on the sidelines to scold her rivals for avoiding the issues.

Smith has raised just under $21,000 in political contributions, compared to $176,000 for Aguiar and $62,000 for Skropos.

In the absence of expensive advertising, Smith, 37, said she is counting on her stand against abortion and her aggressive leadership style to attract voters.

"People know where they stand with me," Smith said. "I've been more visible than my opponents. When I take a stand, I don't back down."

Smith has been known for bold action in her five years as mayor, but she often has drawn criticism for it. For example, when she grew impatient with the Pomona city staff's response to the sale of sexually oriented publications in street news racks, she confiscated racks herself last year. In 1987 she came out of her house with an unloaded shotgun to confront a youth she had mistaken for a drug dealer or gang member.

The confiscation of news racks brought a rebuke from council members who thought she acted rashly, and the shotgun incident led to a lawsuit that was settled out of court after it turned out that the youth was neither a drug dealer nor a gang member.

Nevertheless, Smith said, her willingness to take bold action has gained her a regional following. "I've had offers to move to other cities and run for mayor," she said.

Smith's strong opposition to abortion has won her the endorsement of the California Pro-Life Council. Skropos also is opposed to abortion except in cases of incest, rape or risk to the mother's life, but Aguiar favors abortion rights.

Smith owns an automotive electrical shop with her husband. They have three sons. Her work on youth sports programs indirectly began her political career by gaining her an appointment to the Pomona Parks and Recreation Commission. She then was elected to the City Council in 1985 and became the city's first woman mayor in 1987.

Aguiar, 43, was born in Artesia but grew up on a dairy farm in Chino. After serving in the Army in Vietnam, he attended Mt. San Antonio College and Cal Poly Pomona, leaving college in his senior year to work as a real estate agent. About 10 years ago, he joined Lewis Homes, where he serves as director of office and commercial development.

Aguiar won election to the Chino City Council in 1978 and has been mayor since 1986.

Skropos, 35, a deputy district attorney, was born in Upland and grew up in Ontario. He obtained a bachelor's degree in business from Cal Poly Pomona and a law degree from the University of La Verne. He is married to an attorney and has worked as a San Bernardino County deputy district attorney for five years.

He won election to the Ontario City Council in 1984, was appointed as San Bernardino County supervisor in 1986 and served a year before losing an election for the seat. He was reelected to the Ontario council in 1990.

Skropos said his experience as a deputy district attorney makes him the candidate "best equipped to deal with the No. 1 issue" in the district--drugs and crime.

He has called Aguiar "a wholly owned subsidiary of the development industry," based on Aguiar's job and his campaign donations from developers. He also has questioned Aguiar's Republican credentials, noting that Aguiar was a Democrat until March, 1989.

Aguiar said his support is broad-based, not just from builders. And despite his job with Lewis Homes, he said, he led a successful effort to curtail apartment construction in Chino through rezoning.

As for the switch in party registration, Aguiar said he registered as a Democrat when he was 18 because everyone in the dairy business was a Democrat. But when he decided to plunge into party politics, he said, he chose the Republican Party because of its pro-business slant.

Aguiar is running with the backing of Assemblyman Jim Brulte (R-Ontario), who currently represents the area. Brulte is running for election in a neighboring district.

Republicans have a slight registration edge in the 61st District, but the figures are close enough to give Democrats hope for an upset victory in November, and three candidates are competing for their party's nomination.

The contenders are Bob Erwin, 48, of Chino, a group counselor with the San Bernardino County Probation Department and the Democratic nominee against Brulte two years ago; Larry S. Simcoe, 54, also of Chino, a Los Angeles County firefighter, and Curtis B. Machlan, 29, of Chino Hills, who owns a cleaning business.

Erwin, whose wife, Diane, is a member of the Chino City Council, is campaigning on a long record of service in the Democratic Party. Endorsed by the California Teachers Assn., he advocates increased funding for education and supports reform of the health insurance and workers compensation systems.

Simcoe, who has been a firefighter for 32 years, was elected in 1990 to the board of the Chino Valley Fire District. Describing himself as a "moderate rather than a liberal," he favors putting more lawbreakers in prison and advocates a state policy that would direct all state contracts to California firms.

Machlan is running on a reform platform that includes a promise to serve in the state Assembly for less money than his rivals. Machlan said he would cut his own salary by 35% and reduce his staff budget by 40%. He said the cuts would put his income in line with that of his constituents. He also wants to allow community colleges to award bachelor's degrees in an effort to make college education cheaper.

The new Green Party also is fielding a candidate in the 61st. She is Cynthia Allaire, an office manager from Pomona.

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