Two candidates are making a strong effort to become the first Latinos elected to the Long Beach City Council, while an incumbent who drew criticism for anti-gay remarks last year is facing a serious challenge.
In the 1st District, Jenny Oropeza, the first Latino elected to the Long Beach school board, is waging a well-financed effort to achieve a similar feat on the council. The district, which includes downtown neighborhoods, was redrawn nearly four years ago to create a Latino majority.
Even her two opponents acknowledge that Oropeza is the candidate to beat for the seat held by Councilman Evan Anderson Braude, who opted to run for city prosecutor. The other contenders are Gus Hein, 31, government relations officer for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and Dianne McNinch, 50, a retail consultant.
In the campaign for the 7th District seat, Tonia Reyes Uranga, former president of the Children's Museum, is considered a leading contender to succeed Councilman Ray Grabinski, who is running for mayor.
Uranga has amassed a bigger campaign war chest than her two rivals--Mike Donelon, 42, a general contractor, and W. Mack Tyson, 52, an insurance agency owner.
Five of the nine council seats are on the April 12 primary ballot. Incumbents are seeking reelection in Districts 3, 5 and 9. If no candidate receives 50% plus one vote, the top two vote-getters in each race will vie in a June 7 runoff election.
In the races for the open seats in the 1st and 7th districts, Oropeza and Uranga enjoy wide name recognition as well as fatter campaign war chests. Both said their campaigns tout their credentials as community leaders and play down their ethnicity.
"I'm not asking people to vote for me because I'm a Latina," said Oropeza, 36, who cites her school board experience as proof of her leadership capabilities.
The other 1st District candidates also contend that ethnicity should not be a major issue in the race.
"I think there are more important issues, like people being afraid to leave home at night," said McNinch, who founded the Long Beach Grand Prix Charity Weekend.
Hein emphasizes his community activities. He has been chairman of the Stand Down Project, offering help to homeless veterans, and vice chairman of the YWCA Battered Women's Shelter Advisory Board.
Oropeza has raised nearly $40,000, more than double what each of her opponents has raised.
Uranga leads her opponents in fund raising, with about $19,700. The 7th District, which covers central and western Long Beach, has been plastered with her campaign signs. Donelon has raised nearly $14,000, and Tyson has nearly $5,000 in his campaign coffers.
The 7th District candidates, all of whom are seeking public office for the first time, said crime and business development are the most important issues.
Donelon, president of the California Heights Neighborhood Assn., said he wants to add 100 police officers to the force. Uranga said business license fees should be lowered to attract more companies, and jobs, to the area. Tyson said that crime and commerce are both important issues, and that the council representative should take personal responsibility for attracting new business to the area.
In the 3rd District, incumbent Douglas S. Drummond faces three challengers, two of whom decided to run after he made anti-gay remarks during a conservative forum in the fall.
Drummond, 56, a retired police commander, is up against Patty Moore, 50, owner of a Farmer's Insurance Agency; Don Tripeny, 64, owner of a real estate and development firm, and Anne L. Johnson, 50, a bookkeeper for her husband's legal office.
Moore and Johnson said they decided to run after learning of Drummond's remarks during a speech on "family values" to a chapter of the Eagle Forum of California in September. Drummond said gays did not concern him because they were dying from AIDS, and he supported Cuba's policy of quarantining people with the disease. While a repentant Drummond later voted with the council majority to censure himself and offered an apology, the damage was done, challengers said.
"People were very upset about the remarks he made there," Moore said. She also is the one challenger who has distributed a lengthy platform statement.
Drummond is waging an aggressive campaign. Nearly every corner in the bustling district, which includes the Belmont Shore and Naples areas, seems to be anchored by a Drummond campaign sign.
In the 5th District, Councilman Les Robbins, 45, a Sheriff's Department sergeant, is being challenged by Patrick Carabine, 37, a membership director of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, and Al Stillwell, 57, retired small business owner.
Robbins has been under fire recently for supporting a plan to close Pioneer Boulevard at the border of Long Beach and Hawaiian Gardens to cut off traffic in a quiet neighborhood. Critics have denounced the plan as racist, saying it attempts to cut off access to a wealthier Long Beach enclave from poor neighborhoods to the north. The closure has been stalled pending a trial in Superior Court.
Robbins defends his position. "This street closure is indicative of how I stand up and do the right thing, whether it's politically correct or not," he said.
Carabine says the road should remain open. But he places more emphasis on business issues, advocating aggressive marketing to attract more commercial flights into Long Beach Airport, which is in the district.
Stillwell, a two-time candidate for county supervisor, said he would concentrate on attracting and keeping small businesses in the area. "The city government completely destroys and disillusions any small business," he said.
What a difference four years makes for incumbent Warren Harwood, who is seeking a fourth term in the 9th District.
The councilman, who ran unopposed in 1990, is facing six challengers this time. All have criticized Harwood's reputation as the council naysayer, the one most likely to cast the lone dissenting vote.
The challengers are Jerry Shultz, 47, a sheriff's deputy; Edd Bond, 30, manager of a commercial printing company; Richard F. Cook, 57, a quality representative for an aerospace company and retired U. S. Navy chief; Terry Rouch, 27, a bank branch manager; Rod Givens, 35, owner of an accounting firm, and Felix Babauta, 48, a retired supervisor at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard.
Instead of odd man out, Harwood prefers to consider himself the conscience of the ruling body, he said. He admits that this has not made him popular with colleagues.
"I think there was a little effort by City Hall types and others to recruit challengers to run against me," said Harwood, 54, a projects coordinator for the county Department of Health Services.