City Lights: Elections are upon us

I'm a political junkie, and one of the greatest thrills I have is watching the excitement that surrounds an election. Years ago, I volunteered for a presidential campaign in New Hampshire and took part in what we called "visibility," which meant driving up and down the icy streets at 5 a.m., sticking our candidate's signs in the ground and trying to dominate entire blocks.

In most elections, it's easy to draw a line between the contenders who have a chance and those who don't. But when those colorful signs dot every corner downtown, it's hard not to grin at democracy in action.

Right now, the spectacle has hit Surf City. Drive down Warner Avenue and surname-bearing signs leap out from both sides of the road. Given the 20 candidates' vastly different budgets, though, it's unlikely that they'll get equal exposure.

Fortunately, a grass-roots group has launched a website where all the candidates are treated equally. The Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Assn., which formed early last year to fight the cultural arts center proposed for Triangle Park, has created a site to inform residents about the candidates vying for four open seats on the council in November.

The site, at www.hbdra.com, features information on each candidate's age, family, education and membership in community organizations, plus 14 questions ranging from their reasons for seeking a council seat to their views on the budget, senior center and other issues. The candidates are listed alphabetically, with the same amount of space allotted to each one.

And even though the people behind the Downtown Residents Assn. are hardly impartial — individual members have given campaign funds to more than half a dozen candidates — the website itself is presented without bias.

For that matter, Kim Kramer, the spokesman for the group, is keen to note that it's not just about downtown. The group adopted that name in its quest to save Triangle Park, but he hopes people from all over Huntington will visit the site.

"Names sometimes will pigeonhole you, and I don't want the name Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Assn. to pigeonhole us," Kramer said. "The HBDRA is concerned about the entire Huntington Beach community, as evidenced by this website."

True to his word, Kramer has included a series of reader polls on the site, with topics including the senior center in Huntington Central Park, the Poseidon desalination plant and other issues. There's also a non-scientific poll, which requires registering on the site, asking visitors whom they would vote for if the election were held today. Kramer said the results won't be posted until near the election, but about 250 people had voted so far.

I'd guess that it's the rare voter, even in a city election, who carefully studies each candidate before heading to the ballot box. People tend to vote for candidates they know and like. But for those inclined to know more, the association's website offers valuable tidbits of information — for example, that 18-year-old Shawn Roselius, who graduated from Edison High School this year, has the same amount of education as three other candidates old enough to be his parents or grandparents.

And the candidate questionnaires have their bright moments, as when Dan Kalmick, asked what distinguishes him from other candidates, replies brazenly, "I started my first consulting company when I was 11 years old."

The bottom line: It's a diverse race, and a few candidates may look like front-runners now. But any election offers the possibility of an upset.

And if that happens in Surf City this fall, we may have sites like Kramer's in part to thank.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

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