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VOICES : For the Campaign

May 03, 1987|Bill Boyarsky | Bill Boyarsky is chief of The Times' City-County Bureau

The political, economic and social tensions of a changing city are illuminated by elections next month for two seats on the Los Angeles City Council.

Council elections are usually of limited interest. Candidates think local, promising to put in a street sign or bragging about a new park or recreation center. Nothing said at a candidates' debate in Encino is likely to catch the attention of someone living in Mar Vista.

This time is different. Involved in the June 2 runoffs--necessary because leading candidates failed to get a majority in the April primary--are concerns far beyond district boundaries: a fight between expansion-minded business interests and homeowners; class rivalries between haves and have-nots, and at least part of the political reputation of Mayor Tom Bradley, who wants to run for a fifth term in 1989.

The districts are the city's 10th, in southwestern Los Angeles, and 6th, reaching from the Crenshaw area to Venice and including the airport-area suburb of Westchester. The 10th District is a predominantly black area, including lower-middle-class neighborhoods and upper-middle areas where young professionals are moving into handsome old homes. Nate Holden, a Southern California Rapid Transit District board member and an aide to a South Los Angeles political power, County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, finished first in April. The second-place finisher was Mayor Tom Bradley's choice, Homer Broome Jr., a Public Works Board member and former police officer. A Broome loss to Holden would be embarrassing to the mayor, who once represented the district in the City Council and has many political and personal ties there.

Bradley has even more at stake in the neighboring 6th District, where his close political ally, City Council President Pat Russell, is being challenged. Ruth Galanter emerged from obscurity to finish second in May as a slow-growth candidate. The mayor's stake is higher because the complicated growth issue, which has dominated the contest, may determine Bradley's political future and the shape of city politics for years to come. The demographics of the district add to the citywide importance of the race; the voting population of the 6th mirrors, to some extent, that of the city.

Candidates Russell and Galanter are making the contest even more interesting. They traveled the same route to get to where they are--although Russell made the journey a political generation ago.

A neighborhood fighter of the '60s, she was a League of Women Voters activist elected to the council by neighbors who feared jet-age expansion of Los Angeles International Airport would wreck their residential suburb, Westchester. Russell, a white liberal, also became an advocate for the predominantly black part of her district, Crenshaw. She was an ally of black City Council members and strongly supported one of them, Bradley, for mayor.

Representing a district composed of conservative Westchester, radical Venice and black Crenshaw required Russell to perform a perpetual balancing act, and she did it successfully until hotels, office buildings and residential developments were approved and began rising around the airport and the Marina del Rey coastline.

Like Bradley, Russell favors what she calls controlled growth. As she and her supporters see it, the arrival of Los Angeles as a great international trade center makes development inevitable. "It would be criminal for us to ignore the opportunity to create commercial development around one of the best-known airports in the world," said Russell backer Dan Garcia, who heads the city Planning Commission. But Russell and Garcia maintain such growth can be regulated to retain the city's livable qualities.

Galanter, although unknown and underfinanced, emerged full of upset potential. As Russell did two decades ago, Galanter ran against City Hall growth policies. She had a good resume: Yale-educated, an urban planner, former chairman of the regional coastal commission. And she had visible issues--new high-rises and increasing traffic on the San Diego Freeway and surface streets. Although far outspent by Russell, she had enough money to pull away from other challengers. Further help came from a politically experienced environmental group, the League of Conservation Voters. Also helping the challenge were neighborhood newspapers blasting Russell on the growth issue.

The campaign will be useful for the city since the district, as a microcosm, will provide something of a referendum on the growth and planning policies of the mayor, Russell and their business allies. All are deeply committed to putting up office buildings, hotels and condos for the expanding Pacific Rim trade. The election will be a significant test of whether voters favor that course or the limited-growth policies advocated by Councilmen Marvin Braude and Zev Yaroslavsky. Yaroslavsky is himself getting ready to run against the mayor in 1989.

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