John Ferraro last summer faced a nightmarish prospect for his reelection to the Los Angeles City Council. The second of what eventually would be three redistricting plans designed to increase Latino representation placed Ferraro and fellow incumbent Michael Woo in the same Wilshire-Hollywood district. The two would have had to slug it out in next week's election.
But then Councilman Howard Finn died. Taking advantage of that vacancy, a third and final plan divided up Finn's San Fernando Valley territory, radically shifted other boundaries and gave Ferraro and Woo separate districts.
With the Woo threat gone, Ferraro now faces what his aides expect will be an easy contest in his 4th District against Sal Genovese, a Hollywood resident who owns a drug and alcohol rehabilitation counseling service and who, like Ferraro, unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1985.
Genovese, however, says he is counting on lingering resentment over redistricting to help him, especially since about half of the voters in the reconfigured 4th District never had Ferraro as their councilman before September.
"I think it was pretty dirty politics and a very selfish approach," Genovese said of the redistricting. The changes left Ferraro's home base of Hancock Park and mid-Wilshire in the district and added Atwater, Los Feliz, Griffith Park, Toluca Lake and parts of North Hollywood and Studio City to it. The 4th District is now a strange-looking creature on the map, a backwards C with a very narrow middle through Echo Park and Silver Lake.
Needed a Map Book
In September, Ferraro joked that he had to buy a map book to help him find parts of his newly drawn district. But now, he and his aides say, they have worked hard to win support in the new territory and are meeting constituents' concerns on such matters as a new public library for Atwater and redevelopment in North Hollywood.
"I've never encountered any resentment over the redistricting. People seem pleased and happy that I'm there," said Ferraro, who has been on City Council 20 years and was reelected in 1983 with 87% of the vote against two opponents.
Genovese, 41, is trying to portray Ferraro, 62, as a tired politician who pays more attention to developers than to residents. The challenger has been ringing doorbells and standing in front of markets and post offices. His message: "I just think it's time for a change."
Few Council Members Lose
But history and money remain on Ferraro's side.
Only twice in 15 years has a council member failed to win reelection. Peggy Stevenson lost to Michael Woo in 1985, and Donald Lorenzen was defeated by Joy Picus in 1977. Picus and Woo won on their second attempts. And each raised more than $100,000 in campaign funds. The incumbents also had angered large numbers of constituents.
The city's campaign financing law also works against challenges. A loophole in the 1985 law allows council members this year to spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars they collected before the measure went into effect on July 1, 1985. Challengers must obey the $500-per-donor limit required by the law; for incumbents, the measure only applies to contributions received after the law became effective.
According to a campaign report filed last week, Ferraro has nearly $293,000 in his war chest after having spent $30,622 since January on political expenses. Ferraro said he expects to spend about $110,000 on the current campaign, concentrating on a last-minute mail blitz.
$10,000 Campaign Spending
In contrast, Genovese's most recent campaign report shows that he is nearly $3,000 in debt after having spent about $5,000. Genovese said he will spend about $10,000 on the race.
Despite all that, Genovese contends that he can win.
"In 1985, John Ferraro said, 'After three terms as mayor, a person tends to become complacent and isolated from the people,' " Genovese said. "What does he say about a councilman who has served for two decades?"
Genovese claims that the 1985 mayoral race shows that Ferraro is not popular. In that race, Tom Bradley garnered 68% of the vote; Ferraro received 30% and did not carry even the 4th District. Genovese, in his first bid for elected office, was among the eight lesser-known candidates who divided up the remaining 2%.
Ferraro said the mayoral race, if anything, boosted his name recognition in the new parts of his district and that no one could have beaten Bradley in the afterglow of the Olympics.
And what about his own statements about the isolation of a long-time mayor? "I think there's a difference between being a chief executive of a city and being a legislator," Ferraro responded.
Appointed to Council
Ferraro, a former All-American tackle at USC and then an insurance broker who became wealthy though shrewd investments in stocks and real estate, first was appointed to the council in 1966 to replace Harold A. Henry, who died.