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Two Long-Shot City Attorney Candidates Relying on Experience

March 28, 1985|TED VOLLMER | Times Staff Writer

They have been ignored by leaders of their own party, and they are at the bottom of the polls.

But while Betsy Mogul and Charles Zinger come up short in financial and organizational backing in their uphill bids to become the next city attorney of Los Angeles, they are taking full advantage of their long years of experience as deputy city attorneys.

In often biting and witty rejoinders to the three perceived front-runners for the job, Mogul, an 11-year veteran of the office, and Zinger, with 22 years there, try to point out that they are the only ones who know what it's all about.

'Truth Squad'

During campaign forums and other appearances, Mogul, 38, and Zinger, 54, have become a loosely knit "truth squad," often sarcastically noting what they view as flaws in their opponents' proposals.

They have warned voters repeatedly not to be taken in by opponents' campaign ads claiming qualifications to prosecute crimes. The campaigns ignore the fact that the city attorney's office handles only misdemeanors, not felonies, and that the city attorney is primarily an administrator rather than a prosecutor, the two veterans of that office point out.

Mogul and Zinger are also the only Republicans in the technically nonpartisan race. But GOP leaders give them no chance of winning and are choosing among the three better-known and better-financed candidates, all Democrats.

Despite their experience, Zinger and Mogul have consistently languished at the bottom of the polls. Yet both feel that he or she could stage an upset in the April 9 primary election and get into a possible runoff.

Both have been articulate in espousing their views of the city attorney's office, citing their experience to offer a perspective that none of the other candidates can. Two of their opponents, Murray Kane and Lisa Specht, have never worked in the city attorney's office, and acknowledged front-runner James Hahn, a former deputy in the office, has not practiced law in the four years he has been city controller.

Scored Points Repeatedly

Mogul and Zinger repeatedly have scored points with audiences, often receiving enthusiastic applause for comments critical of the better-known candidates. And the response from lawyer groups, homeowner associations and other audiences has not been lost on Kane, Specht and Hahn, whose own statements have generally been greeted with restrained applause or even silence.

After a debate Tuesday night in Encino, for example, a number of onlookers singled out Mogul for praise.

One homeowner said of Mogul: "I was kind of struck by her. I never heard of her before tonight. And she seemed to come out of left field, giving me pause to think that she does seem to know what she's talking about."

Mogul and Zinger cling to a hope that the voting public will wake up on election day, convinced that the better-financed candidates are less qualified to head the office of nearly 500, including 279 attorneys. And even the current polls do not discourage them.

Far Behind Hahn

With less than two weeks remaining before the primary, Zinger and Mogul are far behind Hahn in the polls, but so are Kane and Specht.

A Los Angeles Times Poll published earlier this week showed that Hahn was in the lead with 44%--less than the majority needed to avoid a runoff. Westside lawyer Specht had 7%, Kane 5%, Zinger 3%, Mogul 2% and undecided 39%. Private polls taken by the front-runners' campaigns produce similar findings. The contest for second place, Zinger points out, is relatively close.

Zinger, who received 18% of the vote when he ran for the same office in 1981, displays a mixture of tolerant amusement and outright disgust with the other candidates.

Some examples:

- He said that electing Specht would be like "putting the fox in the henhouse" because of her ties to a major law firm that lobbies at City Hall.

- He lambasted Kane as "unethical" for calling himself a "prosecutor" when Kane has not prosecuted a criminal case in more than 12 years.

Mogul's favorite target is Kane, whom she also calls "unethical" and whom she has ridiculed for his claims that he is a tough prosecutor. Aiming a smirk at a recent audience, she said that if she had the same prosecution caseload that Kane claims to have had, "I'd feel like I was on vacation."

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