For most L.A. City Council members, the March municipal election is less a race than a stroll in the park. Mayor Jim Hahn faces four serious challengers, but just before the December filing deadline, it seemed that the only serious council race was in the Westside's 11th District, where newbies Flora Krisiloff and Bill Rosendahl are squared off to replace Cindy Miscikowski, who has been forced out by term limits.
No other councilmember faces term limits, and the usual reasoning is: Why should a hopeful take on an incumbent when that incumbent will be out of office in just another four years?
Since Los Angeles' voters imposed the two-term limit in 1993, only one single-term incumbent has been forced out.
But in December, at almost the last possible moment, a challenger emerged in the Westside's other district -- the UCLA-centered 5th District, long the stronghold of present County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. The 40-year-old incumbent -- boyish, mild-mannered former federal prosecutor Jack Weiss -- faces a moderately funded effort by unknown attorney-businessman David T. Vahedi.
The 39-year-old Vahedi contends that he speaks for disgruntled citizens who say Weiss has an unsatisfactory record on crime, traffic and development. Weiss has countered that crime is actually down, and even many of his past opponents have spoken out to support him.
Weiss has raised $301,000. Vahedi, who unlike Weiss is taking city matching funds, has raised $111,000, including $32,500 in city matching funds and personal funds of $22,500. According to January filings, Vahedi has raised more money than any other candidate this year who is challenging a council incumbent.
"I decided to run at almost literally the last minute," Vahedi said. "My wife and I went door-knocking, and we were able to gather the 1,700 signatures we needed in just a few hours."
"I was the 81st of all of the 82 people to file their eligibility petitions in this city election," Vahedi said in an appearance at a Westside meeting of the local Fairness and Accuracy in Media group in Santa Monica.
The tall, dark candidate was by far the youngest and, arguably, best-dressed person in the room, wearing a light-absorbing black, single-breasted suit and a sky-blue necktie, like the ones both President Bush and Hahn have sported of late.
Vahedi accused Weiss of allowing the destruction of Century City's Schubert Theater and of letting it be replaced by an office tower that, he argued, will bring thousands more rush-hour car trips.
Actually, the plan was in place under Weiss' predecessor, Mike Feuer. However, Vahedi said Weiss should have known better and done something.
This audience was quite receptive to Vahedi's attacks on Weiss, consisting as it did of fans of former state Sen. Tom Hayden, whom the then little-known Weiss narrowly defeated in the 2001 5th District council race.
Vahedi, a Democrat like Weiss, isn't running to the left of moderate Weiss. Rather, Vahedi contends that Weiss failed to live up to his billing as the practical, pothole-filling alternative to the controversial Hayden.
"I decided to run because I saw a need, because people are complaining about things like overdevelopment and traffic," Vahedi said.
This isn't his first political sally. He also recently ran unsuccessfully for the State Board of Equalization.
Vahedi mentioned Westwood, and said that the one-time entertainment mecca of West Los Angeles today has nearly the same aura of desolation it had in 2001. "And there is increasing crime," he added.
In a later interview, Weiss countered with LAPD statistics suggesting that crime in his district has dropped 12 percent. He insisted that he's one of the toughest anti-crime council members: "I was a federal prosecutor. I used to put people in jail for a living."
Weiss received a vote of confidence from Sandy Brown, who heads the Holmby-Westwood Property Owners Association, the local homeowners group. Weiss has done a lot to turn Westwood around, she said, even though problems remain.
Brown strongly supported Hayden in 2001, but she's been won over: "Jack was obviously not a seasoned politician when he started. But since then, we've found him most receptive to constituent concerns."
She contended that Weiss even managed to bring around a satisfactory solution to the sprawling Casden residential-commercial development in Westwood Village -- a project that stalled under three previous developers and two previous councilmembers.
"He made no decision without consulting residents," she said.
Westwood is the centerpiece of the 5th District, which includes pieces of Encino, Sherman Oaks and North Hollywood, plus Bel Air, Century City and Los Angeles from the 405 Freeway to east of Beverly Hills and south nearly to Culver City. It also contains the city's chief Jewish regions: the Chandler Boulevard,
Fairfax Avenue and Pico Boulevard corridors.
Even before a youthful Yaroslavsky stormed aboard in 1975, it was long represented by Jews: Ed Edelman, who was preceded by Roz Wyman. These predecessors have endorsed Weiss.
Vahedi's Persian name might suggest that he's Jewish, too, but he isn't.
Vahedi's made some inroads against Weiss. He got the county Federation of Labor endorsement and an interesting range of bricks-and-mortar union backing, including that of the county Building Trades Council. Vahedi's major elected endorser is Democratic Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally.
But there's been no major groundswell against Weiss, with 19 of the district's 20 homeowner groups endorsing him. Weiss also has the backing of the local Democratic Party organization and almost every local legislator, including Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood).
So even with a spirited challenge, it's hard to see this race going to anyone but Weiss. Vahedi may have to wait until 2009 -- that's when Weiss terms out.
Marc B. Haefele is news editor of the Los Angeles Alternative Press and comments on local government for KPCC-FM.