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Ledford seeks fifth term as mayor
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press October 23, 1999.

Valley Press Staff Writer


PALMDALE - He once drove rivets in airliners, then he sold hot sandwiches and cold drinks to former colleagues working at U.S. Air Force Plant 42.
Now Jim Ledford is running for a fifth term as Palmdale's mayor. It's a job that, by itself, pays less than either of his earlier vocations, and is, by itself, barely a living.

According to Ledford, there is more to being mayor than the money. The incumbent says his wife's employment enables him to devote his time to the city and his family.

With the possibility of three new, and therefore less experienced council members, being elected Nov. 2, "I would probably be the most qualified person on the council as far as historical connection to the evolution of our city - where we were in the last growth boom, the development of the General Plan that we have right now," Ledford said.

The incumbent said continuity for a new council is a priority for him.

"I think it's important to have some of that connection as we bring on a council that will go into a review mode to determine what is our best step forward in many arenas."

Despite the worst economic times in recent history - a recession that toppled real estate prices accompanied by rising crime during the early 1990s - the city continued to grow in population and sales-tax revenues, increasing its income by more than 200% through the 1990s.

To not realize the city's progress during that time, "You'd have to be blind - or running for office," Ledford said.

Among the priorities the incumbent sets for the future is expansion of the city's now unused airport, anchoring Palmdale as a stop for high-speed rail, and developing the city's amenities and economy.

Criticisms of Ledford's leadership focus on the city's allowing construction of 200 low-income apartments, its inability to attract a hospital and its rate of crime earlier in the 1990s.

Facing growth

Ledford said Palmdale's General Plan, the document that identifies how land in the city may be used, was the result of a five-year battle with a City Council majority that favored uncontrolled growth.

The best he could do in 1993 was reach a compromise with the opposing majority, he said. The compromise resulted in decreasing the maximum density of apartments from 30 units an acre to 16 per acre, with 20 a possibility if extra resident amenities were included, he said.

It also resulted in levying of impact fees, which developers pay to offset the cost of the street, sewer, park, lighting, school and other improvements needed to keep pace with growth.

The council minority "had an interest in reducing the amount of land for multifamily units, but we were unable to prevail in that discussion," Ledford said. "But we were able to raise the standards for construction and design and density. I thought it was incremental success compared to what we had before."

In March, the City Council voted to enact a temporary ban on construction of new apartments, except those designated for the elderly.

The one-year ban was enacted to give the council time to discuss the city's General Plan.

"That discussion will be a significant departure from the process we went through in 1993," Ledford said. "This time, we may be able to do what we want to do in terms of limiting multifamily development. I think the political will is there for us to do so."

As for a hospital, negotiations between the city, county and the public hospital district created to provide health care in the Antelope Valley have yet to yield a viable proposal, the mayor said.

"I think the private sector will step up within a month" with a proposal of its own, he said. He declined to offer specifics.

At least two groups of doctors have brought proposals to the city, as has the Paracelsus Healthcare Corp., which operates Lancaster Community Hospital.

The city recently completed a study of the area's health-care needs, Ledford said. That study should help convince builders and doctors of the feasibility of construction.

On the issue of crime, with crimes rates dropping drastically within the past three years, "we're doing pretty well," he said. "But we will do more. We will continue to work with sheriff's deputies" on programs to curb illegal activity.

Between 1988 and 1993, the number of major crimes in the city rose from 246 per 10,000 residents to 555 per 10,000 residents, records showed. The number has steadily decreased since 1993, dropping to 414 major crimes per 10,000 people in 1998.

Despite the decline, "I think we will continually have to deal with the residents' perception of safety," Ledford said.

Other perceptions are important as well, such as those of the condition of the city's downtown and east side, he said.

The city spent $500,000 this past fiscal year improving both areas and will spend another $500,000 this year, Ledford said. In all, $3 million worth of improvements are planned.

"My goal is to continually position this city to provide for its residents and to improve their quality of life," he said. "We want Palmdale to be perceived as a great place to raise families."

Longtime resident

A Palmdale resident since 1968, Ledford relocated with his family from Santa Ana when his father retired after 20 years in the Marine Corps.

His namesake, James Sr., took a job as an air-traffic controller at Palmdale's Federal Aviation Administration facility.

Opting not to attend college after graduating from Palmdale High School, Ledford took a job in 1972 with Lockheed, drilling holes and driving rivets into the frames of L-1011 airliners.

Six years later, he was laid off, and he immediately took a job with the Rockwell International aircraft company, working on its B-1 bomber line. "I did that for about five years."

Recalled to work by Lockheed, he became supervisor of a crew that, among other things, did final checks on fuel tanks and hydraulic systems of L-1011s, he said.

"We'd present it to a customer. They would inspect it; we would button it up; and it was a completed project," he said.

As Lockheed began delivering the last of its L-1011s in 1982, Ledford joined two other men in purchasing a building and opening a bar and grill across the road from Plant 42, where Lockheed, Rockwell, Northrop, Boeing and other firms employed thousands of people in aerospace.

"There were no sports bars in the Antelope Valley at the time," and his facility, Generations, filled that void, Ledford said.

"During lunch hour, we'd set up and clear off every table four times in 90 minutes. . . . We did it again for the swing shift workers."

His involvement in local business spurred an interest in city planning and business matters, he said. As a result, he sought and obtained appointment to the city's Planning Commission in September 1985, serving until he won election to the City Council in April 1990.

Halfway into his first four-year council term, he sought and won election to the city mayor's post in 1992. For the first three months of that year, his business operated without benefit of a business license.

Ledford said he failed to renew the license because he, like other local businesses, had been hurt by the recession. In January 1994, Ledford terminated his involvement in the Generations bar and grill, selling his interest to the sole remaining partner, who died in August 1996.

He said he sold his partnership interest "to focus on being mayor."

"As a partner, I was not going to make a fortune there. I told myself I'd do it for 10 years, then move on." he said.

"I ran it for nine of those 10 years, and then my partner decided he wanted to run it. There was a difference of philosophy, so that made it more convenient to leave."

The separation, however, was bumpy. In June 1996, the Internal Revenue Service filed a lien that named Ledford responsible for $8,655 in unpaid taxes on the bar's property.

IRS lien

According to the mayor, the IRS came after him because it was the agency's only available recourse to recoup money after the death of his former partner.

Ledford said his partner had agreed, and apparently failed, to pay a 1992 tax debt of $2,908 on the mayor's behalf as part of their business settlement.

The other debts were incurred after Ledford's departure, the lien showed.

Ledford said he finished paying the debt early this year.

The debt was the second problem for Ledford after the separation. The first arose from the suspension of his former partner's liquor license in June 1996.

The license was suspended for 20 days by the state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control for the alleged buying of liquor from retail outlets instead of licensed liquor wholesalers.

Ledford was drawn into the matter because his name remained on the liquor license pending final dissolution of the partnership.

Despite selling his business interest in Generations, he retained a personal interest in Rachelle Thompson, a Generations bartender. Thompson married Ledford in 1995 after a lengthy engagement.

Now, while the 46-year-old mayor leads the city, his wife provides the bulk of their family income, working at the Vincent Hill Station restaurant.

As mayor, he earns $1,000 a month, plus $200 a month for serving as the city's representative to Los Angeles County Sanitation District No. 20 and another $200 a month for serving as alternate member of the board of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority.

He and his wife "made this decision, that this works for us," Ledford said during a recent candidates' forum.

"We find our most valuable asset is time - time to spend as a family and time to spend with our son, Kye, who's a junior at Paraclete High School," he said. "Being mayor - believe it or not - does give me the time to spend with our son and with my family."


Palmdale mayor returns
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press November 3, 1999
Valley Press Staff Writer


PALMDALE - Early returns Tuesday showed incumbent Jim Ledford on his way toward winning a fifth term as Palmdale's mayor.
Based on a tally of absentee ballots and votes cast in 9 of the city's 24 precincts, Ledford had a 666vote lead over his closest competitor, businessman Rick Norris.

According to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder's Office, Ledford had 1,910 votes, or 52.89% of the early ballots in the four-way mayor's race.

Norris had 1,244 votes, or 34.45% of the ballots cast; hospital computer technician John Grant had 234 votes, or 6.48%; and addiction counselor Carlos Chavez had 223 votes, or 6.18%.

As of midnight, the ballots of only 3,611 voters, or 8.46% of those registered, had been counted. Of Palmdale's 120,132 residents, 42,702, or 35.55%, were registered.

Of those, 17,831 were Democrats, 17,291 were Republicans and 7,580 were affiliated with other political organizations.

Ledford called his early lead "a good start. I'm not ready to declare victory, but I feel good."

If his lead holds, it will reflect approval by residents of gains made by the city's current leadership, the incumbent said.

"I think the voters may be responding to our long-term vision, the strategic plan we've been implementing" to dress up the city and attract new businesses, he said.

With one councilman resigning two years early and two more declining to seek new terms, the panel will have at least three new members if he is reseated, Ledford said.

His re-election would "bring stability and a point of reference to stay the course," he said.

If Ledford held his lead, he and Shelley Sorsabal would be the only two members of the old council, Ledford said. That means "we will go through a re-evaluation of where the city is going to go."

But with votes from only two precincts counted, "it's too early" to call the outcome, he said.

Reached at Sorsabal's home, Norris declined to predict whether he would overcome the incumbent's early lead.

"It's too early to tell. There's only a couple hundred votes in, and I have no idea what the turnout will be," Norris said. "That's where I'm at in the process."

"I'd like to believe (the race) is closer than that" depicted in the early returns," he said. "It's tough going up against an incumbent anyway.

"We're talking about a candidate who's in the press all the time," which gives him an advantage in name recognition," Norris said.

"I'd like to see five votes between us," he said. "I'd like to be ahead, but I'm not. It's going to be a long evening."

In the end, "We'll find out if the voters are satisfied with what has happened in the last 10 years or what can happen in the next 10," he said.

During his campaign, Norris attempted to focus voter attention on Palmdale's lack of a hospital, its new unwanted apartments and its strained relations with Lancaster, comparing Ledford to President Bill Clinton for flip-flopping and lying about those issues.

Ledford pointed attention toward Norris' backers - people with long associations with Lancaster City Hall. The mayor claimed those backers were attempting to wrest control of the Valley's fastest-growing city for their own financial and political purposes.

Arising in mid-campaign was a proposal by Assemblyman George Runner that the two cities unite instead of competing with each other for operating revenues.

That proposal was rejected by most of the 23 candidates on the Palmdale campaign trail, and it gave Ledford more ammunition for his battle against a Lancaster takeover.

One of the more controversial proposals of the contest was one proffered by Chavez, who said the city should end its longstanding relationship with the county Sheriff's Department and establish a municipal police force.

None of his foes embraced the proposal.

But Chavez and Ledford stood together in opposing sharing Palmdale's revenues with Lancaster, a stance taken by both Grant and Norris if the funds were used for mutually beneficial public projects such as a hospital.

Over the past decade, Palmdale's sales-tax revenue has increased by more than 200%, while Lancaster's grew at about 20%.

While Norris preached the need for a new hospital, Ledford pointed out that it is the responsibility of the Antelope Valley Healthcare District, not the city of Palmdale, to establish and operate such a facility.

Ledford said he expected the city's growth to spur a private care provider to build a facility to compete with the health-care district's hospital in Lancaster.

Staff Writer Bart Weitzel contributed to this story.


Ledford's new term includes new dilemmas
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press November 4, 1999
Valley Press Staff Writer


PALMDALE - Jim Ledford won his fifth term as Palmdale mayor Tuesday night, but he awoke Wednesday morning to a City Council full of political rivals, a new set of campaign promises to fulfill and a single harsh reality: in just two years he'd be on the stump again.
"It's very tiring," said Ledford, whose campaign efforts produced 4,593 votes, or 53.07%.

Richard H. Norris, battle weary but still not beaten in his quest to unseat Ledford, says he's going to keep vigil over the mayor's performance, chronicling the mayor's every false step in anticipation of the 2001 mayoral race.

"He better deliver a hospital, because there's another election in two years," warned Norris, who claimed 3,042 votes and 35.15% of the total votes cast.

Norris is going to re-energize, then he'll likely return to the fray in the new millennium.

"I haven't ruled it out," said Norris of another mayoral bid. "Right now I'm exhausted; it's been a very tough campaign.

"It wasn't the win I wanted, but I'm not discouraged because the issues I brought up have to be resolved and so the citizens of Palmdale will benefit from my campaign."

Besides the hospital issue, Norris said low-income apartments, cooperation between Lancaster and Palmdale and public safety will remain on the city government's agenda, due in large part to his efforts to "define" those as priorities.

Ledford, of course, inherits those tasks. Accomplishing them is made all the more difficult since Tuesday's changing of the guard in the City Council.

New members Kevin Carney, who has been arrested for investigation of child molestation; Mike Dispenza; and Rod Penner all were helped in their campaigns by Assemblyman George Runner, RLancaster, and Lancaster attorney R. Rex Parris, part of what Ledford called a "political machine" in the weeks prior to the election.

Shelley Sorsabal, the only City Council member to return to her seat, was also helped in her 1997 council bid by Runner, and Ledford has accused her of being the Assemblyman's "political plant."

It adds up to a City Council ready to clash with its mayor. Not surprisingly, Ledford already misses the old council.

"The last council had multiple term experience, planning commission experience and a good grasp of the overall program," Ledford said. "That brought a lot more stability and a lot of progress.

"With this new council, it could take time till they get the same level of understanding the previous council had."

Ledford estimates that period of adjustment may take as long as two years.

In the meantime, the mayor challenges the newly elected council members to act without influence from Runner.

"A partisan politician like Runner brings a lot of pressure on a nonpartisan body like the City Council," Ledford said. "The party tells them what to do and that's why we're nonpartisan at this level."

Ledford added, however, that he believes each new member is capable of independence.

Still, Ledford wonders whether Runner and his friends will try to use the City Council to reorganize Palmdale government, such as the city manager's office.

"George's presence, I believe, could be detrimental to (City Manager) Bob Toone's presence," Ledford said. "(Runner) is friends with (Lancaster City Manager Jim) Gilley and it's public knowledge that Gilley would love to see Bob Toone gone."