The harsh campaign themes that sounded four years ago during the close race for Los Angeles' 13th District Council seat were echoed Tuesday night as incumbent Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson and five contenders debated her record and the challengers' reasons for wanting her replaced.
With the council primary election less than two weeks away, the campaign has taken on the same strident tones as the 1981 race, when Stevenson was forced into a runoff to win the seat she has held for a decade.
During the debate and in earlier appearances in the 13th District--which spans Hollywood and Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Echo Park--the candidates have focused on neighborhood crime, encroaching development in residential areas and Hollywood's recurring problems with transients and attempts at revitalization.
A crowd of 200 attended the debate, listening to opening and closing statements by the candidates and their responses to questions posed by a panel of reporters from The Times, the Herald Examiner and Meredith Newspapers.
Stevenson's challengers--Michael Woo, Michael Linfield, Arland (Buzz) Johnson, Bennett Kayser and James Duree--spent much of their time attacking her record, blaming her for Hollywood's continuing troubles, accusing her of close ties to developers and criticizing her tenure as chairman of two council committees.
Stevenson, 60, who has held her council seat since the death of her councilman husband in 1975, defended her record, saying critics "have bad-mouthed Hollywood at every opportunity."
Claiming that street prostitution is "virtually gone" on Sunset Boulevard, Stevenson concentrated on her work in Hollywood, taking credit for opening six housing developments for the elderly, bringing in the Community Redevelopment Agency to plan for the area's revitalization and aiding the renovation of 100 buildings there.
"I am proud of the role I have played in helping Hollywood turn the corner," she said.
In contrast to the 1981 campaign, when she maintained a low profile, Stevenson was highly visible this winter, appearing before community groups to renew political ties and review her tenure. The runoff election in 1981, Stevenson said, taught her "that sometimes I have to go out and toot my own horn, remind people of what I have accomplished."
Political redistricting has also changed the face of the 13th District, removing some neighborhoods in Highland Park that were part of Stevenson's base in the 1981 election and adding new communities in the hills north of Hollywood.
Conscious of those shifts, Stevenson noted "progress in every neighborhood from Laurel Canyon to Cypress Park. I think I must be doing something right."
Woo, 33, an aide to state Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), considers some of those new hillside communities crucial in his effort to force Stevenson into a runoff on April 9. Woo is still regarded by the councilwoman's political advisers as her most formidable challenger and both camps are rumored to be preparing toughly worded mailers for the final days of the campaign.
During the debate, Woo concentrated on Stevenson's council voting record, attacking her for switching positions on campaign reform and on Occidental Petroleum's plan to drill for oil off the Pacific Palisades after she received $17,000 in contributions from the firm.
He also held Stevenson responsible for Hollywood's "10 years of decay," challenging her claims that prostitution was nearly eliminated. "I can show you corners on Sunset Boulevard where it's still going strong," he said.
Woo said he agreed with the need to build commercial and theater projects in Hollywood and favors tax and zoning incentives to keep the area's businesses from moving, as Max Factor, Hollywood's largest employer, did late last year. Woo added that he wants commercial development in Hollywood to be balanced by efforts to preserve the area's older, historic buildings.
Despite observations by one panelists that Woo's 1985 campaign has yet to kindle the excitement of his 1981 race, Woo insisted that he was still "the most credible candidate. I've put together the broadest coalition."
While trying to cut into Stevenson's support, Woo has also had to repel inroads made into his own liberal base by Michael Linfield, 34, a Fairfax High School teacher.
Linfield's campaign funds do not begin to approach the $500,000 that Stevenson is expected to raise or the $250,000 Woo hopes to collect, so Linfield has concentrated instead on a grass-roots approach, hoping to raise $60,000 and organize 400 volunteers from the district's activist community.
Linfield said he could still vigorously oppose prostitution despite his backing from the American Civil Liberties Union, which has condemned police tactics during the city's crackdown on street prostitutes. He also said he favored a stronger city rent control law, with a 4%-a-year cap on rent increases and a system of controls after apartments are vacated.