Elections '94: Day of Surprises : BEVERLY HILLS : Favored Incumbent Is Ousted


He had seemed one of the most deeply entrenched of the Westside city council incumbents up for reelection.

Which explains why Beverly Hills Councilman Robert K. Tanenbaum's defeat was perhaps the most surprising of Tuesday's political upsets.

Tanenbaum not only had won his two earlier council campaigns, he had been the city's top vote-getter in both contests. But Tanenbaum, 51, fell dramatically short in his bid for a third four-year term--despite endorsements from high-profile residents including actor Jack Lemmon and MCA President Sidney Sheinberg.

In the race Tuesday for two seats on the five-member council, he was ousted by first-time council candidates MeraLee Goldman, a former planning commissioner who has served 18 years on various city commissions, and Les Bronte, a former Chamber of Commerce president and longtime community leader.

Tanenbaum declined Wednesday to speculate on what may have caused his defeat, saying only that he would have done nothing different during the campaign. "There are no guarantees" when running for political office, he said.

But Goldman, Bronte and outgoing Mayor Maxwell Salter--a longtime foe of Tanenbaum who decided not to run for reelection--had plenty to say about the incumbent's ouster.

Salter, who contributed heavily to a group that organized opposition to Tanenbaum, said the councilman lost in part because he failed to accept responsibility for the financial problems of the Beverly Hills Family Y, where Tanenbaum is president of the board of directors.

He also cited the aggressive style of Tanenbaum, a former New York prosecutor known for his courtroom-style oratory and for grilling those who appear before the council.

Another reason offered for the upset was Tanenbaum's failure to win an endorsement from the Beverly Hills Police Officers Assn. The union gave its endorsement to Goldman and Bronte, ending what the union called a tradition of endorsing incumbents.

The union's decision came in part because Tanenbaum, in a surprising break with all seven of the other candidates, said the city should put more of its existing 128-member police force on the street rather than hiring additional officers. He angered the union with campaign remarks that the city should focus more of its support on officers in the field and "not add more police desk jockeys in suits."

"Public safety was certainly the No. 1 issue," said Goldman, 60, who made hiring 10 more officers the centerpiece of her campaign. "The police are very precious to this community. Their endorsement is not easily made and not capricious. I think the community took it that way."

Bronte also cited Tanenbaum's tension with the police department. And he and Goldman said there was a widespread feeling among voters that two terms was enough. Said Goldman: "People believe in term limits."

Goldman, the top vote-getter in the race, said her immediate goal on the council is to comb through the city's $75-million budget, using volunteer financial advisers to find money to hire more police.

Bronte said he plans to listen and learn--and "make sure the police and fire departments have the best of everything to do their job."

Bronte, 58, said he also wants to see the city make a concerted effort toward improving its earthquake preparedness program. He said he would like to see every home inspected by the building and safety department for a modest fee to help residents determine what they need to improve their disaster preparedness.

Tanenbaum, who lost a 1992 bid for Los Angeles County district attorney, declined to say whether he will seek public office again. But the ousted incumbent, who has written several novels drawing on his experiences as a prosecutor, said he intends to do more writing.

"I've put off some major book tours," he said.

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