In a race that has enough candidates for a minyan, the fight for the 5th District City Council seat being vacated by city attorney hopeful Mike Feuer became even tougher following the Jan. 12 addition of Tom Hayden. With the former state senator expected to win a plurality in the April 10 primary, speculation is now limited to which of the other 10 candidates will face Hayden in the June 5 general election.
The candidates all but agree with each other on many of the pertinent issues --LAPD reforms, Valley secession, gridlock and the need for a full city audit -- so minor divergencies will carry more weight among constituents in this Jewish stronghold, which includes Fairfax, Pico-Robertson, Westwood and Sherman Oaks.
During a March 22 candidates forum sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles at Temple Beth Am, the contenders, most of whom are Jewish, deviated infrequently from agreement with one another but eagerly promoted platform differences when they arose.
Moderator Pete Demetriou, a KFWB reporter, opened by portraying the event as "a job interview, and you're hiring."
Some of the job's perks include a role in the allocation of the city's $4.3 billion budget, the ability to draft policies for 4.1 million people and a vote to determine whether Bernard Parks will continue to serve as police chief after 2002.
Joe "Graffiti Guerrilla" Connolly, who referred to himself as that "crazy goy," started off by dropping Yiddishisms in hope of connecting with the audience. Studio City resident Constantina Milonopoulos, meanwhile, stuck to her issues: gun control, greening neighborhoods and strong opposition to billboards.
To combat financial waste at the city level, each of the candidates wholeheartedly supported a top-to-bottom audit. Hayden, who repeatedly focused on the need to increase funding for paramedics, senior services and filling pot holes, endorsed such a plan to end the MTA and Belmont "gravy train."
Stephen Saltzman, who had been a deputy to Mayor Tom Bradley and a deputy director for AIPAC's Southwest region, mentioned cost overruns on City Hall's post-earthquake renovation, which went from $75 million to $300 million, as a prime example of a "need for better management and better priorities."
Pico-Robertson attorney Nathan Bernstein and Victor Viereck, a North Hollywood accountant, went out on a limb and said that the Community Redevelopment Agency needs to be scrapped to save money.
Gridlock, one of Los Angeles' more perplexing problems, elicited almost as many solutions as there were candidates, but public transportation, company incentives to stagger work hours and ending construction during rush hour all enjoyed support from Saltzman, Milonopoulos, Hayden, Bernstein and business-woman Robyn Ritter Simon.
Sherman Oaks businessman Ken Gerston called for "more left-hand turn signals and reverse-flow lanes" to relieve congestion.
Viereck preferred a DASH or light-rail solution and felt that the ability of MTA Rapid buses to change traffic lights was "too dangerous."
Laura Lake, a Jewish Federation board member and former UCLA environmental science and engineering professor, came out swinging on the topic of the new City Council charter amendment that provides for neighborhood councils in an advisory capacity.
"If neighborhood councils had statutory authority, I would be would be a big booster," Lake said. "I wanted a charter that would have given them a shared governance, a real voice. I support charter reform that would give real power to the grass roots of Los Angeles."
Former U.S. Attorney Jack Weiss said the councils "have tremendous promise, [but ] I'm disappointed by the way the City Council implemented the process."
Saltzman responded that the councils are a "work in progress. The problem is not decentralizing power, but electing somebody who is willing to stand up to fight for the community, who will fight against Breitburn oil drilling on Doheny and Pico. We need to elect people who aren't going to give away power."
The candidates sympathized with the frustration of Valley constituents, but all opposed the call for Valley secession. Sherman Oaks political consultant Jill Barad said that "if people got the services they want and need, they wouldn't feel the need to secede."
Saltzman seized the opportunity to play devil's advocate. "Every candidate has said that they support the breakup of LAUSD because it's too big," he said. "Why is it that these same people don't say that about the City of Los Angeles?"
When it came to the L.A. Police Department, Weiss and Milonopoulos were the only candidates who would seek to renew Chief Parks' contract. "I think we have to stay the course with him," Milonopoulos said.
With the LAPD receiving only 20 percent of the city's budget, compared to 50 percent in the 1960s, each candidate supported increasing the number of officers from 9,032 to a minimum of 10,000. Bernstein said he would like to add an additional 7,000.
"We're losing 28 officers every two weeks," said Lake, who would like to boost morale by offering competitive pensions. "We're training officers for other cities."
Hayden, who opened the evening by citing his Holocaust survivor legislation, closed simply with mention of his work to control guns and chromium-6 in drinking water and his Sierra Club endorsement, exuding a quiet confidence that, barring a landslide, the real work for him will begin April 11.
The other candidates closed by attacking or defending records or highlighting their lack of attachment to special interests or enthusiasm for the position. In short, they were trying to push themselves into the spotlight Hayden clearly enjoys.