Los Angeles City Council candidate Ruth Galanter, locked in a campaign battle with Council President Pat Russell, was brutally stabbed and left near death by an intruder who attacked her in the bedroom of her Venice home early Wednesday.
Police said the assailant slipped in through the back door of the house where Galanter lives alone about 4:30 a.m. and struck twice with a knife before Galanter's screams and a burglar alarm that she managed to set off sent the attacker fleeing.
After five hours of surgery at UCLA Medical Center to repair damage to arteries in her neck, Galanter was reported to be in critical but stable condition Wednesday evening. One wound severed a carotid artery that supplied blood to the brain, according to one of the doctors who operated on her.
However, the doctor, Jonathan R. Hiatt, the director of trauma and emergency surgery at the medical center, said there was no indication of brain damage, as another artery carrying blood to her brain continued to function.
"She is able to comprehend questions. . . . As best as we can tell at this point (she) seems to have intact neurological functions," Hiatt said.
But he said that "it is too early to know if there is long-term damage. . . . The next 24 hours are critical."
"There are profound injuries," Hiatt said. "I think she was in danger of dying at the time of her admission."
Police said they had no suspects. They also said they saw no connection between the political contest and the crime. Rather, detectives said they were looking for similarities between the attack and a series of crimes in the Westside area in which women were attacked, sometimes sexually, in their homes.
Police and medical officials said tests were being conducted to determine whether Galanter had been sexually assaulted. "We have no evidence of that (a sexual assault) at this point," Hiatt said Wednesday night.
Nor were there any signs that the house had been ransacked or that anything had been taken, officers said.
Galanter, 46, rose from relative obscurity to successfully challenge Russell in the April 14 City Council primary election. The two women face each other in a June 2 runoff for the 6th Council District seat, a position Russell has held for 17 years.
An urban planning consultant and a newcomer to politics, Galanter had recently emerged as a champion of the city's burgeoning anti-growth movement.
A low-keyed, matter-of-fact speaker and at her best in front of small groups, Galanter and her campaign had become a rallying point for neighborhood groups angry about the pace of commercial growth. Although the race is confined to the 6th District in western Los Angeles, it is widely viewed as a referendum on citywide issues of density, congestion and pollution that have come to dominate local politics.
A Change of Direction
"This is a movement that is about to change the direction of city government," Galanter said recently of her campaign.
Galanter is the second Los Angeles political figure to be attacked in recent months by an intruder in her home. Last November, Secretary of State March Fong Eu was beaten and robbed in her Hancock Park home. A 27-year-old prison parolee was later arrested and charged with the crime.
Lt. Ed Henderson, head of the major crimes unit of the Los Angeles Police Department, said Galanter's assailant entered the two-bedroom house on Louella Avenue through a screened window in a back door. It was the same screen that had been tampered with in an attempted burglary on Monday, he said.
Neighbors of Galanter called police after hearing her screams and the burglar alarm.
Henderson said officers found Galanter in a pool of blood amid signs of a struggle in her bedroom.
'A Lot of Blood'
"It appears that the attack took place on the bed. . . . She was still in her nightclothes when officers found her," Henderson said. 'There was a lot of blood on the bed."
Galanter suffered two 2-to-3-inch stab wounds at the base of her skull on the left side of her neck just below her ear and on the right side of her neck, Hiatt said. It was the left side wound that severed the carotid artery, he said, adding that it could not be rejoined.
Hiatt said that the wound on the right side punctured her pharynx, which he described "as the area of the food tube near the esophagus. . . . That injury was repaired," he said. Hiatt said Galanter required four pints of blood, but he also said that her "vital signs have been stable throughout her entire course here at UCLA."
Belinda Horne, a neighbor who lives on the same block of Louella Avenue, said that neighbors nearer Galanter's home heard screams about 4:45 a.m. Wednesday and went to the house to see if Galanter was all right. Horne said that as the neighbors knocked on the front door, they heard Galanter's cries for help.
Bob Harkey, who runs an advertising business from his house on the block, said he was working through the night and heard a burglar alarm.
No Serious Problems