Except for one nagging issue, Democratic Assemblyman Mike Roos appears to have a smooth sail ahead of him in his bid for reelection in the 46th District.
After all, his position as Assembly majority leader gives him high visibility against three relatively unknown opponents, including a Republican even local GOP activists say they have never met. Roos, an assemblyman since 1977, has a record of strong constituent service, a liberal voting record in a liberal area and a campaign war chest 100 times larger than that of all of his challengers combined.
What's more, Democrats have a 2-1 voter registration lead in the district.
Roos speaks of the race in football terms. He may not be playing against powerhouses like USC or UCLA, he said, but "you still want to practice if you are playing Cal State Long Beach." He stopped himself and laughingly pleaded with a reporter to use the name of some out-of-state college; he did not want to offend Long Beach alumni who might be his constituents.
However, a dark cloud has been hanging over Roos' otherwise sunny political playing field for the past two years. It is not certain whether that cloud will disappear, burst into a storm or remain there well past Election Day. His opponents, to be sure, are hoping for a heavy rain--and soon.
That cloud is the continuing investigation into alleged ties between Roos and W. Patrick Moriarty, the Orange County fireworks manufacturer who in January was sentenced to seven years in prison for political corruption.
Roos reportedly profited by $50,000 on an investment in a generally unprofitable Moriarty condominium project in 1982, just days after voting for a bill that would have helped Moriarty's fireworks business. Former Moriarty aides have said that Moriarty also provided Roos with prostitutes.
Roos, 42, has not been charged with any crime and says that published reports of his financial dealings with Moriarty have been misleading. But this week, chief Assistant U.S. Atty. Richard E. Drooyan said the joint federal and Orange County investigation of Roos and other politicians is continuing. Asked whether Roos would be soon cleared or indicted, Drooyan declined comment, "given the proximity to the election." So far, 12 people have been indicted in the probe, and nine of them have either pleaded guilty or been convicted of a variety of crimes.
Jeffrey Wright, the 29-year-old USC student and real estate agent who is the Republican candidate in the 46th District, said he does not expect to win the election unless Roos is indicted before Election Day. But Wright said he does not expect any action in the case soon.
In a recent interview, Roos declined to comment on specifics of his alleged connections to Moriarty, saying those allegations are "well worn." But he did give a reporter a letter he said he sent to The Times, where many of the allegations were first raised. In that letter, he denied taking any special action to help pass the fireworks bill and said that previous stories unfairly depicted him as not being candid about the case. He said he voluntarily handed over all his records to authorities.
Roos said the negative publicity caused him to consider dropping out of politics. But he decided to stay, he said, because he is in a position to help his constituents. "I am a dealer in hope," he said.
The Assembly majority leader won the Democratic primary in June with 91% of the vote against political novice William Jones, who stressed the Moriarty affair in a low-key campaign.
More worrisome to Roos were plans by Peter Scott, a gay activist and businessman, to run against Roos in the primary because he thought Roos had become vulnerable and that the 46th District, with a large gay population in Silver Lake and Los Feliz, would support a homosexual candidate. But Scott came under intense pressure from the Democratic Establishment not to run and he didn't. Suffering from AIDS, he recently has been hospitalized.
3,000 Signed Up
Because of the possible Scott challenge, Roos said, he sent out several mailings and conducted district polls. More recently, he said, his workers have registered about 3,000 new Democratic voters--no small task in a district with many new immigrants ineligible to vote.
The overwhelming Democratic majority in the district means that, "if Roos were caught dancing in the nude with children in the park, he would still get reelected," said Marel Bates, a 42-year-old pension actuary who is the Libertarian candidate. He said his goal is not to win but to give more exposure to the Libertarian philosophy of getting the government out of economic and personal matters.
John O'Brien, the Peace and Freedom Party candidate, said he is running because parts of the district, especially East Hollywood, are decaying and badly need more subsidized housing, more jobs and better social services. O'Brien, 37, described himself as a gay activist and an office manager for a private music school.