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3 in GOP Vie for Ticket to Congress in 21st District

May 27, 1986|LYNN O'SHAUGHNESSY, Times Staff Writer

Three Republicans--Simi Valley Mayor Elton Gallegly, Tony Hope, a lawyer and son of comedian Bob Hope, and stock brokerage executive Tom La Porte--are competing in the June 3 primary race in the 21st Congressional District.

The district extends from eastern Ventura County through parts of the western San Fernando Valley to the Sunland-Tujunga area. It also dips into the Pacific Ocean to include Santa Catalina.

Because the district is overwhelmingly Republican, the winner of the GOP primary will most likely become the 21st District's next congressman. The scramble for that privilege was touched off when the incumbent, Rep. Bobbi Fielder (R-Northridge), decided to run for the U.S. Senate.

Profiles of the three candidates follow.

ELTON GALLEGLY

Favorite Son of Simi Valley Proves a Strong Contender

When Tony Hope announced his candidacy for Congress in a Universal City hotel room bathed in TV lights and jammed with curious reporters, a lot of people figured the race was already over.

Hope had the dad (Bob Hope), the money (plenty) and the background (Washington experience and presidential appointments) to quite possibly turn the GOP primary into a David-and-Goliath match.

At least that's what Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) thought. The popular young lawmaker, citing Hope's seemingly excellent chances of winning, abruptly pulled out of the 21st District congressional race.

But Simi Valley Mayor Elton Gallegly, the other Republican contender at the time, refused to surrender. While political insiders discussed how big a landslide Bob Hope's kid might expect, Gallegly, 42, was organizing an army of volunteers and attending scores of big and little fund-raisers.

Through persistence and hard work, Gallegly eventually convinced enough people that he is a contender so that today the race is too close to call. In the process, Gallegly, a scrappy, aggressive campaigner, has sometimes made Hope, a usually unflappable person, furious.

"Hope thought he'd steamroll us," said Ben Key, Gallegly's campaign consultant. But, he said: "Elton's like a bulldog. He's tenacious. He keeps coming back."

Gallegly's characteristic energy during the campaign and his six years as mayor are among the reasons his admirers insist he would make a fine congressman.

"He's bright and energetic and interested," said Simi Valley Police Chief Paul Miller. "I think his motivation is what's best for the city."

Proud of Achievement

One of Gallegly's proudest mayoral achievements was helping to professionalize the Police Department. When Gallegly became mayor in 1979, officers wore blue blazers and drove cars identified with the Community Safety Agency. The crime rate was high, morale was low. With the backing of Gallegly and the City Council, Miller, the new chief, put the officers in traditional uniforms and black-and-white patrol cars.

Gallegly, who occasionally rides along with patrolmen, likes to boast that FBI statistics now show Simi Valley's crime rate to be one of the lowest among cities of comparable size west of the Mississippi River.

On the campaign trail, Gallegly mostly talks about the progress this city of 92,000 has made under his mayoral tenure. The conservative Republican brags about the new City Hall and senior citizens center, the new fleet of buses and the 10,000 private-sector jobs that have been created here since 1980.

It is almost as if Gallegly is attempting to turn the congressional race into a referendum on Simi Valley.

He has taken some heat for that. Hope and Tom La Porte, who entered the campaign after Hope declared his candidacy, have chastised him for rarely dwelling on federal issues and suggest that his knowledge of national affairs is limited.

Gallegly, who has been endorsed by most of the Republican elected officials in Ventura County, probably most closely identifies with President Reagan's policies. While the other two GOP hopefuls are conservative and applaud Reagan's accomplishments, they have proposed ways that the federal government could better tackle the nation's problems.

But Gallegly seems to take all his cues from Reagan's agenda. When, on rare occasion, Gallegly disagrees with the President (for instance, Reagan advocates free trade, Gallegly is a protectionist), the mayor tends to apologize.

The mayor insists that his local involvement is more valuable to voters than Washington experience.

"I think I know what they want; I think I know what they don't want," he said. "I've worked with them on a daily basis for almost seven years in local government. . . . I think that's imperative in knowing how to deal with the problems."

Gallegly, the only GOP candidate without a college degree, also relishes sharing with listeners Lincolnesque stories about his past. His family lived in more than a dozen rental units in southeast Los Angeles before saving enough to buy a home when he was a teen-ager.

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