The Alphabet Killer: What Makes Mike Schaefer Run? And Run? 


“My name is Mike Schaefer — Schaefer like the ambulance company. I’m the ideal candidate from Central Casting. I am a constitutional scholar. I killed the alphabetical ballot and forced the state of California to change its residency laws for political candidates. I served two terms as a city councilman in San Diego, ran as my party’s candidate for the U.S. Congress, and I got a street named for Debbie Reynolds in Las Vegas. I’m also a successful businessman who handles $500,000 in investments, and I own part of the Pierce Brothers Mortuary. My slogan is ‘Be Safer With Schaefer.’”

Moments before he began this rapid-fire spiel, part of a forum at the Wilshire Radisson Hotel for eight of the candidates running for the City Council Fourth District seat, Schaefer, 63, worked the room, distributing “gold” coins bearing his name and the promising legend “Good for One Beer or Wine.” The luncheon audience, the Beverly Hills and Greater L.A. Association of Realtors, was there to learn where the candidates stood on issues that enrage realtors — rent control, gas-shutoff-valve mandates and lawn-sign restrictions. It was a reliably conservative group that collectively gasped in horror when candidate Denise Munro Robb mentioned her membership in Americans for Democratic Action and that grew visibly irritated by the pro-rent-control taunts of Melrose Larry Green, who is also on the ballot. Yet it is a testament to Schaefer’s bizarre campaign that he has made the flamboyant Green, who sat next to him on the dais, appear like a straight man in the vaudeville of L.A. politics.

The attentive realtors quickly got a taste for the kind of micro issues that obsess him. “My campaign assistant was downtown the other day,” he told them, “and tried to park at a meter that said 10 minutes for 25 cents. I said, ‘Henry, put in two quarters —we’ll get 20 minutes.’ He put in two quarters but got 15 minutes. The machines are geared for 7½ minutes, but they say 10 minutes.”

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Shaefer, it soon became apparent, presumes his electorate to be angry “little” people fed up with being pushed around by municipal bureaucrats and ignored by a council whose aloof members seem like unconcerned Manchus. They are people who are shocked whenever they phone City Hall at quarter to five on a Friday and find no one there. “If I’m elected,” he said, “I’d dock everybody on the council who’s more than five minutes late $10 a minute.”

Perhaps no one more embodies the career politician that Schaefer says he’s against than David Roberti, another candidate for the Fourth with whom he shared the rostrum. The image of the affable and beefy Roberti, a former longtime assemblyman and quintessential Sacramento insider, seemed peeled from a Daumier caricature. But while Roberti represents a familiar figure (the professional politician seeking new grazing grounds after a term-limited retirement or election defeat), Schaefer presents something entirely different: the thoroughly unelectable dreamer who migrates from one race to the next, like a bruised bull rider following the rodeo circuit.

Since elected as San Diego’s youngest city councilman in the 1960s, Schaefer has entered at least a dozen races and won none. But what makes him such a curiosity is his choice of campaigns. While a Las Vegas resident, he ran in Los Angeles’ Ninth and 10th City Council districts, its 32nd Congressional District and for district attorney of San Francisco. He earned himself a footnote in legal history when he ran to fill the late Sonny Bono’s Riverside County congressional seat in 1998. Although as an out-of-state candidate he was prevented from running, the Ninth Circuit Court later established his — and all such candidates’ — right to do so.

And while for years this lawyer has reminded listeners of his ambulance-company namesake, lately it has been hearses that Schaefer seems most intent on chasing, having run to replace first Bono, then Julian Dixon and now John Ferraro — all three of whom died in office.

When asked why he, a white Republican, ran earlier this year in the heavily black and Democratic 32nd Congressional District, he replies jokingly, “Why did Willie Sutton rob banks?” What, then, made him choose his current battlefield, the Fourth District?

“When I saw this district,” he tells the Weekly, “I went, ‘Wow! It’s got Farmer’s Market. It’s got Los Feliz, Hancock Park.’ I’d like to move over a few blocks to the Gaylord Hotel because I’m a big fan of the HMS Bounty. I like the Fourth District because it’s the district of economic achievement. You’ve got the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at Hollywood and Highland. Our district has a lot of multi-million-dollar homes. I’m running into people who are achievers — doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, producers and writers, people of great art and talent that I don’t run into enough in the 32nd District. I just feel comfortable with all its neighborhoods. I grew up with Farmers Market. I didn’t grow up with Martin Luther King [Jr.] and Crenshaw boulevards.”

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