Los Angeles City Council members Wednesday began considering whether to fill a vacancy created by the death of Councilman Howard Finn by appointment or by calling a special election. Already there was maneuvering by political interests, some backing Finn's widow and others seeing an opportunity to seat a Latino or other minority member.
The 68-year-old Finn, who had represented the Northeast San Fernando Valley since 1981, died Tuesday night of a ruptured aorta, a few hours after being stricken with chest pains at a meeting of the council's Planning and Environment Committee at City Hall.
Councilman Richard Alatorre, chairman of the council's Charter and Elections Committee, said his panel will meet Wednesday to discuss how to fill the vacancy.
The council could fill the vacancy with an appointee who would serve until a new council member is elected from the 1st District. The council could choose to call an election as early as Nov. 4 but no later than the next scheduled municipal election in April, 1987, said City Clerk Elias Martinez. A candidate would have to receive more than 50% of the vote to win in such an election, or a runoff election would be required.
A number of community activists from the 1st District Wednesday began an effort to get the council to appoint Finn's wife, Anne, to fill the vacancy.
"Howard always said she was his better half in the community," Council President Pat Russell said.
Anne Finn, who was resting at her Shadow Hills home Wednesday with her family, said through her daughter, Melinda Marchuk, that she is "not in any situation to even think" about accepting a council appointment now.
Mel Wilson, executive vice president of the United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley, said, "I spent a lot of time in the community and I would see those two every place I went. She probably knows best Howard's feeling on issues.
"They were a real team. I like her. I think she's honest and would carry out Howard's wishes."
Finn's death could open the way to the election of the first Latino from the San Fernando Valley to the council, a prospect improved by the council's recent redistricting. The plan increased the Latino population in the 1st District from 36% to 40% based on 1980 census figures.
That gave the district a higher Latino population than all but two of the 15 council districts--the 14th on the Eastside and the newly created 13th near downtown. Community leaders say that the Latino population of the 1st District has undoubtedly increased since the census.
Alan Clayton, civil rights representative of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said Wednesday that with the vacancy of the Finn seat and the district's increasing population, "obviously there will be a hard look taken for the opportunity of a Latino candidate to run in the 1st District."
"Now we might have an opportunity to have three seats with Latinos (on the council) instead of two years ago, when we had no Latinos," he said.
Early opinion on the council was mixed, but most community activists interviewed Wednesday favored a special election over a council appointment. Several minority leaders expressed skepticism that the council would appoint someone in touch with the needs of the heavily Latino and black communities of Pacoima, Lake View Terrace and Sun Valley.
"I think the people should be the ones to make the decision," said Edward Kussman, a longtime Pacoima activist and former Valley chairman of the NAACP.
Jose De Sosa, president of the San Fernando Valley NAACP chapter, however, said he favored a council appointment. He said a special election would hurt potential minority candidates who would not be able to garner the funds and organize a campaign as quickly as a candidate from the more affluent Shadow Hills area.
"I think we could have more input as to who the candidate . . . would be in an appointment," De Sosa said. "I think it would turn into a one-sided special election. Unless we are able to motivate our people, it will be a low voter turnout and that would be a detriment."
A memorial service for Finn will be held at 10 a.m. today in the City Council chambers. Burial will be private.
In lieu of flowers, Anne Finn suggested that contributions be made to one of the councilman's favorite projects, the Juvenile Justice Connection Project in the Valley, which counsels troubled youth.