Down to Size
Bob Hertzberg sure picked the right venue for his election-night party. The obscure AirTel Plaza Hotel, with its tiki-themed Clipper Club Lounge situated across the street from the Van Nuys Airport is a favorite nesting place for charter pilots and crews marooned by bouts of fog. It was an appropriate metaphor for the entire Hertzberg campaign. He kicked it off last year knowing he had little name recognition. And now, on election night, with all those favorable polls suggesting a last-minute surge behind him, he was experiencing visibility problems of a different sort. A socked-in L.A. basin was holding up the helicopter transfer of ballots downtown, and the final count and the judgment on his political fate was stalled out. I can tell you this, the always-excitable Hertzberg said loudly from the podium of his packed but modestly sized ballroom just after 11 p.m. Its going to be a long night. A long night. But Ill be back in a little while. A little while turned into a long while as the fog thickened and froze the very partial vote count with Hertzberg in third place, a few percentage points behind Jimmy Hahn. As Hertzberg left the stage, to paraphrase William Goldman, nobody knew nothing. Various exit polls showed Hertzberg placing second and making it into the May runoff against front-runner Antonio Villaraigosa. But the vote count still showed him out of the running, in third. Were okay. Were okay, really, one campaign staffer reassured a clump of reporters. Its the Valley vote thats hardly been counted yet. And we own the Valley. Indeed, the partial returns on hand showed that it was the Sherman Oakscentered District 5 that had reported the smallest percentage of precincts. And as you looked around the room, it wasnt hard to confirm that Hertzbergs real base was the Valley. Among the five major Democratic candidates gatherings, this must have been the only one where you couldnt find a single shiny satin union jacket. The room, instead, had the feel of a Valley secession meeting. And only as the night wore on and the older folks drifted off to bed did the demographic bracket drop down below the AARP threshold. Didnt matter, though, if the crowd was on the geriatric side. Bobzilla was still bubbling with his usual java-level energy. I executed this very well, he told the Weekly as he left the podium, breathily punctuating his sentences and moving his head back and forth as if he were a prizefighter just finishing up and awaiting the judges decision. Dick and Nancy Riordan were the biggest celebs in the crowd of about 250 supporters (Democrat rainmaker and former Clinton administration commerce secretary Mickey Kantor went almost unnoticed). When the Weekly asked Riordan why a mayoral election elicited such a low turnout, less than 30 percent, the former mayor waxed existential if not downright radical. I think people feel they have no power over anything. People feel anonymous, Riordan said, briefly sounding (and even looking at least a little) like the now-departed Herbert Marcuse. They dont know where to go, they just give up on government. Hertzbergs lead consultant, John Shallman, optimistically punched the air. We talked to about 150,000 voters today by phone or knocking on their doors, he said, noting that the campaign concentrated its last-minute efforts on the Westside and, of course, the Valley. And he claimed there were no unforeseen surprises. When Bob and I sat down in my living room 12 months ago, we started playing out the whole scenario. We were nowhere, but we had a good idea where we had to go. Thats the way Bob is, you know. Hes a smart guy and wants to look at all the details. And here we are tonight, and it has played out almost exactly the way we thought it would. Key word: almost. By midnight, nearly all of Hertzbergs supporters had given up. Maybe not on the big picture but at least on the evening. With only about 30 percent of the vote count in, the ballroom began to empty out. Hertzie never re-appeared. I got distracted and was knee-deep in a conversation with blogger Mickey Kaus and L.A. Times Opinion editor Bob Sipchen about how big the cartoon should be on the cover of the Sunday section, when we realized we were among the last handful of stragglers in the room. Bob Hertzberg and his mayoral campaign had quietly slipped back into the fog where it was born. The morning light would not find a feisty Bobzilla victoriously emerging from the shrouds of haze. Instead, he conceded.
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