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Davids and Goliaths

That’s term limits for you. Who knew they would end up giving every elected Los Angeles city official a shot at two four-year terms in City Hall. This year, only one of them — City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski — is coming to the end of her second term, so there’s not much action on the ballot. If not for the fact that Mayor Jim Hahn is so vulnerable, you might not even notice the election this year. The controller is running unopposed, the city attorney is running unopposed, three City Council members are running unopposed, and most of the other four council members face only token challenges. Why would a serious contender jump in now, only to face a well-financed incumbent, when it would be so much easier just to wait four years for an open seat? Still, incumbency is not a rock-solid guarantee of re-election. Antonio Villaraigosa proved that in 2003 when he took on Nick Pacheco and beat him, instead of waiting four years. Jack Weiss, Villaraigosa’s City Council ally, must be hoping it was a one-time phenomenon, because he has drawn two opponents in the 5th District seat, and one of them — attorney David Tyrone Vahedi — is giving him serious trouble in the wealthy and mostly Anglo district that includes Encino and Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley, then crosses the mansion-studded hills and embraces Westwood, Century City, Fairfax and Cheviot Hills. Vahedi is a Century City plaintiffs’ lawyer and community activist who helped found the Westside Neighborhood Council. He seemed like an also-ran until earlier this year when an endorsement recommendation for Weiss from the political council of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor was revoked. Sources at the County Fed said the action was due to Weiss’ vote last year to reject the massive airport-renovation project proposed by Hahn. Construction workers were angry with Weiss for his thumbs-down vote on a project that meant hundreds of construction jobs. Meanwhile, Vahedi was scooping up endorsements for his quixotic run from an assortment of Democratic Clubs that preferred his activist background to the more law-and-order stance of Weiss, a former federal prosecutor. “I won’t bash him as a human being,” Vahedi said of Weiss. “I’m angry at the decisions he’s made.” Those include, according to Vahedi, support for various developments in the district, rejecting spending limits in the current race, voting against council resolutions opposing the Patriot Act and the invasion of Iraq, backing Villaraigosa for mayor early on, and voting — again, with Villaraigosa and Bernard Parks, and this time three other council members — against putting on the ballot a half-cent sales-tax hike to pay for police. He said the Villaraigosa endorsement was bad for the district because it cut him off from a chance to get better police protection and city services. “Jack is betting that Antonio wins,” Vahedi explained. “But what he’s done in those two years is alienated himself from [Police Chief William] Bratton and Mayor Hahn — they’re the first people you need to have to get police resources back to your district . . . You can’t run a city like that. You’ve got to go play nice in the sandbox.” Weiss has not played nice in the City Hall sandbox, often leading the verbal condemnation of Hahn for lax oversight at the Department of Water and Power and, in fact, over many operations at City Hall. He called Hahn an ineffective mayor, and said it would be in his constituents’ best interests for Villaraigosa to replace him: “A mayoralty is a terrible thing to waste.” As for support in the district, Weiss said it was unprecedented for a sitting council member to have endorsements from so many homeowner groups. “If I was a pawn of developers, I don’t think you’d see this kind of backing,” Weiss said. Some of his strongest support comes from environmentalists impressed with Weiss’ aggressive opposition to a city policy of suing to roll back clean-water rules. He also has pressed, so far with less success, to move forward with the city’s cable-franchise renewal process. Four years ago, Weiss rode his background as a federal prosecutor into a runoff with the better-known Tom Hayden and beat him. This time out, Weiss has raised $300,000 in his re-election effort. Vahedi, who entered the race late, has come up with $88,000, not a bad showing for a previously unknown challenger. A third candidate, Encino businessman Gregory Martayan, is trying to stay in the race and could, possibly, earn enough votes to deny either Weiss or Vahedi the 50 percent they need to take the seat. That would put the two frontrunners back in the race all over again for a May 17 runoff. Ed Reyes also isn't cruising to easy victory in his 1st District, a densely packed area that runs from Pico-Union to downtown, north through Chinatown and Elysian Park and into historic but gritty Highland Park, Cypress Park and Lincoln Heights. Reyes drew two challengers who were unhappy about what they call his standoffish attitude toward the district. Several weeks ago, for example, there was an arson fire at a church in his home community of Cypress Park, and Reyes didn’t hear about it when it happened, or for a couple days afterward. He was late on the draw in finding out about the emergency community meeting called to discuss it. That, according to architect-businessman Stephen Sariñana-Lampson, one of Reyes’ challengers, is typical. “How do you have a fire in your district at a church, arson, and not find out about it?” Sariñana-Lampson demanded. “Any other district, the Fire Department would have investigators, the FBI would be there. It’s a hate crime. But we can’t even get our city councilman to come.” Sariñana-Lampson said he is unhappy over how his home neighborhood of Lincoln Heights is being overrun by poorly designed apartments and what he calls inappropriately placed development. The thoughts are echoed by Ernest E. Sanchez, a former Reyes staffer. “There is a lot of concern about the disconnect between the council office and the community,” Sanchez said. Much of the ire against Reyes, especially in Lincoln Heights, arose over the councilman’s staunch support of Las Memorias, a wall in Lincoln Park memorializing Latinos who died of AIDS. “He brought a gay wall into the district,” complained one community activist. Could there at least be another place for it, one that didn’t take up so much park space? Or a place, some neighbors complained, that wasn’t so close to where kids play? Sanchez said the problem was not so much the presence of the wall, but the way Reyes pushed it through without consulting the community. “He had a slash-and-burn attitude,” Sanchez said. Reyes rejected the charge, responding that there would always be elements in the mostly Latino neighborhood that would object. The project, he said, was important enough to move forward. The councilman has the same stance toward citywide projects that have less than ringing support in the district, like mandatory inclusionary zoning — a requirement that builders include below-market-rate housing in any new development. As for the church fire, “Somebody screwed up,” he said, by not contacting his office immediately. He later had a news conference at the church to announce arrests in the case. “It’s a tough district, with families who often don’t want to get involved,” he said. Reyes has many fans outside his district because of his affordable-housing stance and his work to revitalize the Los Angeles River. If campaign funding is the only determinant, he is in for another four years: Reyes has raised more than $250,000, while each of his opponents has less than $4,000. But, Sariñana-Lampson said, it’s not about money. “It’s about the community.” Jan Perry, who represents the 9th Council District, may have the toughest job in town, serving a bifurcated swath running from the downtown of skyscrapers and gentrifying former commercial buildings to the down-at-the-heels communities south of the 10 freeway. Perry’s task is simultaneously to stoke the economic fires of the downtown renaissance and to help the mostly African-American and immigrant Latino families who live there get their share of desperately needed city services. Perry, for one, rejects the assertion that the district is bifurcated, though she acknowledges that the southern part of the 9th is one of the city’s poorest and most crime-ridden sections. “It’s one district,” Perry insists, “with plenty to offer, and plenty of needs, from one end to the other.” The councilwoman’s most ambitious undertaking is to end homelessness in the nation’s largest skid row, which also makes up part of her district but is being increasingly eyed by housing developers who have noticed the boom in downtown loft living. Perry’s supporters say her motivation is strictly humane. Critics suggest she’s doing the bidding of her business supporters. Neighborhood activist Eddie Reyes has been challenging Perry for years, organizing the southern part of her district through neighborhood councils. Now Reyes is challenging Perry at the ballot box, although his campaign apparently has run aground after he raised only $250 for the battle. LAPD Officer Peter Torres, who ran against Perry’s predecessor more than a decade ago, is making another run for the seat and has raised nearly $30,000. It’s impressive, but Perry has well over $300,000 in her war chest. In the 3rd District, Dennis Zine is cruising to a likely easy re-election against Jeff Bornstein, whose chief complaints against Zine are approval of inappropriate real estate in the district and too much money spent on the glossy fliers that the office circulates to residents. As for the rest of the council members who are up for re-election — Eric Garcetti, Alex Padilla and Janice Hahn — they can relax and watch the mayor’s race.


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