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Conventional wisdom, plus the opposite of it

AS IF YOU ASKED

I stopped trying to predict election outcomes years ago, mostly

because I proved to be a dismal failure. That’s why, as I did for a

column written on Burbank’s election day earlier this week, I stick

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to citing “conventional wisdom.” It generally holds that incumbents

not in jail and those spending the most money will do the best.

Exemplifying the impossibility of predicting municipal races, on

Tuesday Burbank voters reaffirmed conventional wisdom in the contest

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for two City Council seats and defied it in the race for three school

board seats.

Dave Kemp, now a board member- elect, easily trounced all three

incumbents. He beat his non-incum- bent competition by ramping up his

campaign weeks before anyone else, in an organized and professional

race manned by a devoted band of grassroots supporters. All that

helped against the incumbents, too, but their self-inflicted wounds

were surely responsible for the huge gulf between his results and

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theirs.

Paul Krekorian, Larry Applebaum, Ted Bunch and incumbent board

member Mike McDonald will compete in the runoff election April 8 for

two more board seats. Bunch and McDonald have their work cut out,

because an analysis of voting results over the past decade shows

council and board candidates rarely improve their primary ranking in

the runoff. That is, if a candidate finishes fourth in the primary,

historically they emerge from the runoff in fourth. The good news for

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Bunch and McDonald is that most exceptions to that pattern were in

school board contests.

Many district-watchers were stunned first-term incumbent Rich Raad

placed so far back in the pack. Board critics I talked to were

convinced that, if they could focus energies on defeating incumbents

Elena Hubbell and McDonald -- clearly entrenched and unbending --

they could live with giving Raad a chance to redeem himself in a

second term. With the benefit of hindsight, however, the outcome

makes sense.

Raad didn’t have the eight or 12 years in office his colleagues

had to build a following. When debacles of the past two years gnawed

away at the community support and relationships each has enjoyed,

Raad’s supply was consumed, while Hubbell and McDonald still had

years worth of reserves to call upon.

McDonald outpacing even Hubbell might lend credibility to longtime

theories that he can rely on avid support from members of the active

church he belongs to, and from those who’ve known him for years

through the football program he runs. Those passionate backers

carrying McDonald into the general election have to hope supporters

of the front-runners get lazy or take things for granted.

In the council race, appointed incumbent Jef Vander Borght was

done a great disservice by his friends and supporters. They were sure

he’d win outright in the primary by capturing 50% of the vote plus

one, and kept telling him so. Vander Borght never acted as though he

believed it, but deep down he had to hope all his friends were right.

Vander Borght’s first-place finish, with 48.8% of the vote, was

exceptional, a disappointment only when compared to the assumptions

of his fans. From their point of view, Vander Borght enjoyed the

benefits of incumbency, with voters also knowing him and his

abilities thanks to his 11 years on the planning board. The trouble

is, Vander Borght was appointed to the council (replacing a member

who resigned) less than a year before the election. He didn’t have

the four years of exposure incumbency usually provides.

And as for the planning board, I think Vander Borght’s circle let

themselves forget how few residents routinely pay attention to City

Hall in general, and to the planning board in particular.

If Vander Borght does for another five weeks what he did before

the primary, he’ll probably do well April 8. There’s no shame in

that, just work, worry and walking that he’d obviously rather have

been done with.

As for the other council candidates, I’m seeing some signs of

tension between the camps for Gary Bric, Brian Malone and Todd

Campbell, the three who followed far behind Vander Borght. This

council campaign has been one of the most congenial in memory, but I

guess I won’t be surprised if we start seeing a few elbows thrown in

the coming weeks.

COUNTING ON A PROBLEM

City Hall can be invigorating on election night. This year, there

were early fears the rotunda would be nearly vacant, but candidates

and their friends eventually turned it into a crowded community

event. Supporters of the successful Measure L, the bond initiative

for new libraries, were especially happy. After all, they’d dumped a

“big-time” campaign consultant who warned they were amateurs sure to

fail, and voters gave the amateur campaign resounding approval.

But the mood did turn ugly briefly, when frustrated poll-watchers

began to realize there was a problem in some numbers being issued by

the City Clerk’s office. To win outright in the primary, a candidate

needs to top 50% of the vote. As votes are counted, City Clerk

Margarita Campos periodically releases computer- generated

tabulations to the waiting crowd. Aside from vote totals, the sheets

include a column showing the percentage of votes won by each

candidate.

On Tuesday, it was clear early on that the percentages shown were

misleading. Rather than show each candidate’s share of the total

number of voters, the column showed the percentage of total votes for

that office. For example, in an election with one voter, if the voter

casts votes for Tom, Dick and Harry for three open seats, each

candidate has earned 100% of the vote. But the figures Campos was

issuing would instead show each candidate having 33.3%.

This isn’t the first year this has happened. Former City Clerk

Judie Sarquiz ran the last municipal election using the same

software. But when concerned observers noticed the puzzling

percentages, Sarquiz and her staff started recalculating to give out

the percentage relevant to the election.

When observers raised the same question this year, Campos said the

percentage that matters is the one based upon the total number of

votes cast, not the number of voters. While his supporters believed

school board candidate Dave Kemp was guaranteed a seat with his 53%

of the vote, the clerk’s numbers showed he’d only earned 21.8%. A

Daily News reporter and I insisted on seeing the city’s election

ordinance, and the plain language clearly refuted the method being

used.

But Campos told a skeptical crowd that she had to rely on the

election consultant hired to process the city ballots. She said he

confirmed her use of the numbers.

The dispute was resolved with the suggestion Campos check the

election results from 2001. That’s when council member Stacey Murphy

won re-election in the primary. She did that with votes from 57.9% of

those who voted, but only 21% of all the votes voters cast for all

the council candidates.

* WILL ROGERS’ column appears in every edition of the Leader. He

can be reached 24 hours a day at 637-3200, voice mail ext. 906, or by

e-mail at will.rogers@latimes.com or willrogersemail@earthlink.net.


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