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Pitch for Picus Out of Line, Local Panel Says : GOP Slaps Maureen Reagan on the Wrist

April 18, 1985|DAVID FERRELL | Times Staff Writer

Maureen Reagan's endorsement of a Democrat in last week's Los Angeles City Council election has drawn a formal objection from members of the Republican Central Committee of Los Angeles County, who say her last-minute pitch for incumbent Joy Picus may have tipped the race away from Republican challenger Jeanne Nemo.

Committee members voted unanimously Tuesday to ask the Republican National Committee to prevent its employees from endorsing non-Republican candidates in Los Angeles city or county elections.

Although the written request will not mention the President's daughter by name, it will be sent this week as a direct result of Maureen Reagan's role in Picus' reelection, committee members said.

Reagan endorsed Picus in letters distributed four days before the April 9 election, in which Picus captured 55% of the vote against Nemo and four other candidates for the city's 3rd District council seat. Picus outpolled Nemo, her closest challenger, 19,575 votes to 7,237, but captured barely 2,000 votes more than she needed to avoid a runoff election.

'Could Have Forced Runoff'

"Nemo could have forced Picus into a runoff if these letters hadn't been sent," said assistant committee secretary Lucille Pershing, who said the endorsements reached about 41,000 Republican homes in the district.

The endorsements, praising Picus' integrity and intelligence, appeared to conflict with Maureen Reagan's national party role as a promoter of Republican women candidates, Pershing said.

"We don't want to embarrass the President," Pershing said. "At the same time, we just deplore the fact that she did this. It was the wrong thing to do."

Maureen Reagan, a special consultant to the National Republican Committee chairman, could not be reached Wednesday at her office in Washington, D.C.

But Bill Greener, a national committee officer, said he sees no conflict between Reagan's party duties and her endorsement of a Democratic candidate in Los Angeles, where city elections are nonpartisan.

As a part-time consultant, Reagan is not bound by national committee policies that prevent party employees from getting involved in local nonpartisan races, Greener said.

Longtime Friends

Greener described Reagan as a longtime personal friend of Picus, who supported Reagan in her unsuccessful 1982 U.S. Senate bid. At the same time, Greener strongly defended Reagan's dedication to Republican Party interests.

"Probably no one I can think of traveled more miles in 1984 in support of Republican candidates in contested party elections," Greener said. "But Maureen feels very strongly that the Los Angeles council race should remain nonpartisan."

Although Picus also downplayed partisan politics during the campaign, Nemo and another challenger, Matt Lynch, based much of their campaigns on efforts to win support from Republican voters.

The 3rd Council District, which encompasses Canoga Park, Reseda, west Van Nuys and parts of Tarzana and Woodland Hills, sided heavily in recent elections with Republicans President Reagan and Gov. George Deukmejian.

'Irreparable Damage'

Nemo, who raised the issue at the central committee's quarterly meeting in downtown Los Angeles, predicted that the committee's position would cause "irreparable damage" to Maureen Reagan's political ambitions. But Greener said it is impossible to predict what repercussions--if any--the action would have.

Former central committee chairman Art McClure, one of 165 members who unanimously approved the action Tuesday, said it is possible that Reagan was unaware that her support for Picus would hurt Republican candidates. But he said Reagan should have not have made the endorsement, even if she was just a consultant taking part in a nonpartisan race.

The committee's letter "is not meant to be a big rebuke or a slap in the face," McClure said. "We just want to call to the attention of national committee members that some of their goals are being defeated by a slip by a prominent national figure."

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