In the weeks since she forced Los Angeles City Councilwoman Pat Russell into a June 2 runoff, Ruth Galanter has made a point of distancing herself from Assemblyman Tom Hayden. Galanter and her supporters say they fear that a political alliance with Hayden would open her up to charges of hard-core liberalism.
At the same time, however, Galanter has publicized the fact that three key positions on her campaign staff are held by leaders of the Venice Town Council, a small organization composed mostly of left-wing activists.
Galanter confirmed last week that Moe Stavnezer, Patrick McCartney and Jim Bickhart--three longtime town council members--are working on her staff. She added that she does not view their involvement as a political liability.
"This is not a town council campaign," said Galanter, 46, a Venice urban planner and environmentalist. "People who know me and who have worked with me for years know that nobody runs me. I make the decisions."
On the surface Galanter appears to be rejecting one liberal while embracing others. But the Galanter camp makes a strong distinction between the town council members and Hayden. Hayden (D-Santa Monica) is seen as a powerful and controversial 1960s figure who could be a liability to Galanter in conservative areas such as Westchester. Galanter said that participation by Hayden or Campaign California, his statewide political organization, "is likely to cause confusion."
Stavnezer, McCartney and Bickhart are viewed as lesser-known liberals whose participation means nothing to the average voter. Yet all three have activist backgrounds. Stavnezer, who coordinates issues for Galanter, is a major foe of development in Venice and a frequent contributor to the Free Venice Beachhead, a stridently liberal newspaper. McCartney, a Galanter policy adviser, is a former president of the town council. And Bickhart, campaign communications director, is the town council's planning and development committee chairman.
Kam Kuwata, Russell's campaign spokesman, said Galanter has shown where her sympathies lay by hiring the three.
"To a degree you are defined by the people you surround yourself with," Kuwata said in a telephone interview. "This defines who Ruth Galanter is."
Galanter said there is no evidence to suggest that she is running a left-wing campaign. The former chairwoman of the California Regional Planning Commission said she receives political advice from residents throughout the 6th Council District, a diverse area that includes racially mixed Venice and Mar Vista, as well Westchester, which is predominantly white, and Crenshaw, which is mostly black.
"The other side apparently plans to use this to cause problems," Galanter said. "But my campaign is actually broad-based and eclectic. There are plenty of people in the campaign who have never even heard of the town council."
Galanter characterized herself as a "former" town council member. She said she joined the group last year but has allowed her membership to lapse.
McCartney, who ran against Russell in the primary and placed third, argued that it is incorrect to call Galanter a town council candidate, even though several prominent members of the group work for her.
"Several Venice Town Council people are friends who go quite a ways back with her," McCartney said. "But Ruth has been much more closely identified with conservation groups than she has with the town council."
Stavnezer said he would be surprised if his participation and that of the other town council members becomes a serious issue in the Galanter-Russell race. He maintained that the group is no longer viewed as controversial.
"The Venice Town Council has become a very deliberate and cautious body," Stavnezer said. "I wouldn't say that it's conservative. But it has had some very upright and normal citizens come and speak to it in recent years."
There are still those, however, who would place the organization to the left of Hayden when it comes to recent political activities. The town council is known as the leading anti-Establishment voice among community groups in Venice. Its members have been responsible for slowing commercial development while fighting for more affordable senior housing and parking, and are well known for their fierce opposition to Russell.
Ironically, Russell created the group in 1973, intending it to be a grass-roots advisory panel on issues affecting the Venice community.
Town council members have also had a strong hand in the editorial direction of the Free Venice Beachhead, which has called for the ouster of Russell while publishing pleas for nuclear disarmament, swipes at the CIA and editorials characterizing President Reagan as "President Rambo."
The April issue of the Beachhead contained 11 stories on the 6th District council race, all of them anti-Russell. There were also cartoons that depicted Russell as the "Wicked Witch of the West" and as "Snively Whiplash."