Los Angeles 13th District Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson and challenger Michael Woo clashed Tuesday night over development issues and campaign funding records in a debate in the Hollywood Hills, an area that could prove crucial to their June runoff election hopes.
The two candidates portrayed themselves as friends of the affluent hillside community, taking strong stands on issues that homeowners have championed in recent years. Both Stevenson--who recently introduced a council measure that would temporarily freeze high-rise apartment development south of the hills--and Woo called for limits on apartment growth and traffic.
But they criticized each other on hillside issues: Woo attacked Stevenson's apartment moratorium as politically motivated, while Stevenson replied that she has always fought excessive development.
Stevenson and Woo also traded barbs over a $5,400 campaign contribution Woo received in 1981 from a firm owned by Orange County fireworks manufacturer W. Patrick Moriarty. The businessman pleaded guilty in March to a variety of felony counts, including making illegal campaign contributions. Woo used the Moriarty contribution in his unsuccessful 1981 effort to unseat Stevenson.
"Mike Woo needs to tell the citizens what he knew about the contribution and when he knew about it," said Stevenson, adding she had "led the fight" against Moriarty's attempts to make fireworks legal in Los Angeles.
Woo, who tried to defuse Stevenson's charges last week by giving $5,400 to five charities, replied that he did not know in 1981 that the money had come from Moriarty.
"My conscience is clear," he said. Woo then demanded that Stevenson detail a 1981 meeting with Moriarty during which she claimed to have turned down the businessman's campaign aid. "Mrs. Stevenson, what happened at that meeting and when did you turn it down?" he said.
The debate clash over the Moriarty contribution was preceded last week by political literature that Stevenson sent to 13th District voters. The mailer--which juxtaposed photographs of Woo, stacks of hundred dollar bills and lighted fireworks--contrasted questions about Woo's ethics with Stevenson's refusal to accept Moriarty's campaign funds.
Woo and Stevenson also clashed over their support in the gay community. Woo said he had received more support from homosexual political groups and was the "first challenger who has received a contribution from MECLA (the gay-oriented Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles); Stevenson pointed to her work on behalf of gay rights, including a recent "domestic partnership" proposal that would allow homosexuals to register their live-in relationships with the city.
The campaign has grown increasingly heated since the April 9 primary when Stevenson, a 10-year council veteran, defeated six rivals but was unable to win 50% of the vote. She won 42% while Woo, the second-place finisher, took 35%
Results from the primary vote showed that the Hollywood Hills--an area that has been reapportioned into the 13th Council District since Stevenson was reelected in 1981--could play an important role in the runoff.
Although Woo ran strongly in 15 hillside precincts during the primary--defeating Stevenson in those areas by 35% to 29%--he may have problems there in the runoff. Arland (Buzz) Johnson, a loser in the primary, did well in the Hollywood Hills, taking 18% of the vote. Many of Johnson's supporters were conservative Republicans who are being targeted by Stevenson campaign aides as potential supporters in the runoff.
During the debate in a room overlooking the darkened Hollywood Hills, Stevenson was quick to ally herself with the audience of 100 homeowners. "I raised my family in this area," said Stevenson, 61, who has lived in a hillside community for 33 years. "You are my neighbors."
Woo, 33, a Silver Lake resident who works as an aide to state Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), identified himself as a foe of high-rise apartment development, which hillside residents blame for traffic problems and obstruction of the Hollywood skyline.
"We're faced with tremendous development and traffic pressures," he said, proposing that some Hollywood streets be turned into one-way arteries to reduce congestion.
In recent weeks, however, Stevenson may have gained political momentum in the hills by introducing several bills that would limit development in the area. Last month she led a fight to protect the Highland-Camrose Bungalow Village from apartment developers by persuading the City Council to give the village's 15 homes historic status.
Stevenson has also proposed a 360-day moratorium on development in the Cahuenga corridor, a section of the Hollywood Hills where homeowners have been battling high-rise apartment growth for three years.
After the debate, Brian Moore, a hillside homeowner and new president of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns., suggested that the moratorium may be broadening Stevenson's support in the hills.
"I think it was a very good move on her part," Moore said. "It was a good election-year move. I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't sway some votes."
Grace Baldwin, founder of the Hollywood Heights Assn., said she expected that although only about 100 hillside homeowners attended the debate, their impressions would quickly be transmitted to other hillside residents.
"The phone wires will be hot over the next few days," she said. "Half the neighbors on my street have already put into my answering machine asking me to tell them what happened."