Los Angeles City Councilwoman Pat Russell and challenger Ruth Galanter may do most of their verbal sparring from afar in the heated 6th District runoff instead of participating in a face-to-face debate.
Several community groups have expressed interest in bringing the candidates together before the June 2 vote. But it takes two to tango, and Russell's camp has said that the councilwoman may reject an offer to face off with Galanter.
Spokesman Kam Kuwata said there are better ways to reach constituents.
'Great for Media'
"Those kinds of staged events are great for the media, but not that substantive for voters," Kuwata said. "I'm not sure they're necessary."
Galanter campaign manager Marcela Howell disagreed, saying that debates are a "great way for getting ideas across" to constituents in the diverse district that includes Westchester, Mar Vista, Venice and parts of Crenshaw.
She called on Russell to meet Galanter publicly before the election.
"Russell says that she wants to stand on her record, and we are perfectly willing to challenge her on it in open debate," Howell said last week.
Once a staple of politics, debates have lost favor in recent years as candidates have taken advantage of targeted mailings and other, more sophisticated ways of reaching voters. The Los Angeles chapter of the League of Women Voters, however, is trying to keep the debating tradition alive.
Working for Meeting
Iris Kaphan, the league's voter service director, said that she is working to arrange a meeting between Russell and Galanter on cable television.
Etta Belle Kitchen, head of the Los Angeles league, said she hopes the candidates will cooperate.
"I would like for us to do something on this," Kitchen said. "But it comes down to the two women who are involved."
Russell participated in several of the candidates' forums held in conjunction with the April 14 primary. In that race, which pitted her against five challengers, Russell received 42% of the vote to Galanter's 29%.
Kuwata, part of the new campaign staff hired by Russell after the primary, said the councilwoman will devote more time to one-on-one contact with voters for the runoff.
"The Russell campaign will have its greatest secret weapon, Pat Russell, out talking to the voters," he said.
Spending Large Sums
The 63-year-old Russell, who has served on the council since 1969, is also expected to spend large sums of money on direct mailers and other forms of mass market advertising.
Galanter, a 46-year-old Venice planning consultant and former chair of the California Regional Coastal Commission, has less money than Russell and is running a grass-roots campaign staffed mostly by volunteers.
As a challenger, Galanter has more to gain from any debates. Campaign manager Howell said that she would encourage community groups to organize the political forums.
Leaders of the Venice Town Council and the Venice Civic Union said their organizations will consider sponsoring debates.
Patrick McCartney, a former candidate who heads a Westchester-based group called the Coalition of Concerned Communities, said his organization was also trying to put a candidates' forum together.
Key Issue: Development
Howell said that she has also heard from a residents' group in Crenshaw.
Regardless of whether a debate occurs, development is expected to be the key issues in the runoff. Galanter and the other challengers scored points against Russell in the primary by labeling the councilwoman as pro-development and anti-neighborhood.
Their criticism was especially effective in Westchester, where four major development projects have been approved.
Russell contends that the criticism is unwarranted. The councilwoman said that she has contained development by forcing developers to adhere to strict guidelines and by passing laws making them pay for public improvements.