Elections '94: Day of Surprises : CULVER CITY : After 16 Years, City Clerk Is Counted Out

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For 16 years she was a fixture in Culver City municipal government, never once drawing an Election Day challenge.

Until this week, that is. On Tuesday, longtime incumbent Pauline C. Dolce went down to defeat in a surprising loss to Tom Crunk.

Culver City voters also approved two ballot measures and picked a pair of City Council members Tuesday. Incumbent Mike Balkman was elected to a second four-year term, and Planning Commissioner Ed Wolkowitz won the other council seat up for grabs.

But the drama was in the clerk's contest. Crunk, a computer consultant, prevailed after a contentious campaign, winning nearly 60% of the vote.

During candidate forums, it had appeared that Dolce, 73, had the solid support of senior citizens, a powerful force in Culver City politics. But Crunk, 37, said his victory showed that voters of all ages want a fresh approach.

"Based on the fact there is a large senior citizens vote, I must have received a large chunk of that vote," he said. "(Senior citizens) must have felt it was time for a change too."

As Crunk celebrated Tuesday night, the scene in Dolce's office resembled a wake. "I can't believe this," one of her staffers said indignantly.

One by one, city employees filed into Dolce's office, some wiping away tears and hugging the outgoing city clerk, who dabbed at her reddened eyes with a tissue. Dolce declined to comment on her defeat.

The city clerk's race, a boring affair in most municipal elections, generated interest in Culver City after Crunk drew attention to Dolce's $75,000 annual salary, which he called excessive. Crunk supported--and Dolce strongly opposed--a recent council decision to cut the clerk's salary to $732 a month, or about $9,000 a year, starting in 1996.

Crunk said that as clerk, he will press the council to make the decrease effective immediately.

That would not be the only change affecting the clerk's office. Tuesday, voters approved a ballot measure transferring the city clerk's accounting and financial responsibilities to the city treasurer's department, also effective in 1996. The proposal was made by council members Steve Gourley and Al Vera as a cost-saving measure.

Voters also approved a ballot measure limiting council members to two consecutive four-year terms, a proposal that was widely expected to pass but was opposed by the two victors in the council race, Balkman and Wolkowitz.

In Tuesday's election, 22% of the city's 21,716 registered voters cast ballots, 7% fewer than in the previous city election, in 1992.

After the ballots were counted, Balkman said his victory reflected support for renewal projects under way in the city, which include renovation of the downtown area. "It just proves that people applaud the accomplishments of the last four years," he said.

Wolkowitz said he hopes to use his new office to improve Culver City's image. During the campaign, he often remarked that the city is seen as a "backwater" that is hostile to business.

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