Assemblyman Tom Hayden, a powerful figure in Westside politics, has indicated that he will stay out of the hotly contested June 2 runoff between Los Angeles City Councilwoman Pat Russell and challenger Ruth Galanter.
After flirting with the idea of supporting Galanter, the Santa Monica assemblyman said he does not expect to become involved in the 6th District race. Hayden said he would stand by his position unless Russell's staff members try to smear him or Galanter in the waning days of the campaign.
Staff Welcomes Decision
"I don't want to be an issue," Hayden said. "I don't want to get involved in this race. . . . If there's no attack, then fine."
Hayden's decision was welcomed by Galanter's staff. Supporters privately feared that Galanter would lose votes in conservative areas such as Westchester if she were politically linked to Hayden, a former radical. Spokesman Marshall Grossman said the controversy surrounding Hayden's possible role in the campaign diverted attention from more serious election matters.
Grossman added that Galanter, who is recovering from a brutal knife attack that occurred in her Venice home, is determined to run a grass-roots campaign and does not want to be tied to "professional political organizations" such as Campaign California, the statewide political group headed by Hayden."
Russell also applauded the move. People close to her campaign said that she was concerned that Hayden would conduct an effective get-out-the-vote and absentee ballot drive for Galanter. Russell said she hoped that Hayden would remain neutral, but claimed she had never threatened him politically.
"We haven't said anything about Tom Hayden in my campaign," Russell said. "All of my conversations have been about the 6th District and the issues."
Yet it was Russell's staff that apparently forced Hayden's hand. In a statement last week, Hayden said three Russell staffers had tried to blackmail him by warning that he would be smeared in mail targeted to conservative voters if he endorsed Galanter. Hayden identified the three as campaign manager Kam Kuwata, consultant David Townsend and public relations man Michael L. Dieden.
Russell's staff denied the accusation. But the exchange put Hayden in the spotlight and contributed to his decision to steer clear of the race.
'Not a Pawn . . . '
"Ruth Galanter is trying to say she is independent and not a pawn of mine," Hayden said. "The other side is trying to say that she is. I have an interest in saying . . . let's get the campaign going on the issues. . . . What the voters want to know is what are the specific differences between the two candidates. I'm not the alternative. I'm in Sacramento."
The decision may put an end to weeks of intense speculation about Hayden's possible role in the campaign. But it also comes fairly late, since Hayden has already been caught in the political cross fire of the Galanter-Russell race, with both sides essentially saying negative things about him.
"Tom has become an issue and it hasn't been positive for him," one associate said. "I guess he is feeling a little unwanted," said another.
Hayden said he did not know if he had been hurt politically, but added that he remains interested in the outcome of the Russell-Galanter race. Roughly 20% of his 44th Assembly District is located in the 6th District, which includes Westchester, Venice, Mar Vista and parts of Crenshaw. Hayden has been mildly critical of Russell's leadership there.
Like Galanter, Hayden favors slow growth and has expressed deep concerns about the negative impact of a series of massive commercial development projects slated for the Westchester area. Hayden and Galanter have also played leading roles in the environmental movement. Their friendship dates back to the early 1960s, when the two were students at the University of Michigan.
Aides said that Galanter initially asked for Hayden's help when she entered the April 14 council primary. Hayden refused, deciding to wait and see how Galanter and the other four opponents fared against the powerful Russell.
When Galanter emerged as the top challenger and a serious contender for Russell's job, getting 29% of the vote to Russell's 42% and forcing the veteran councilwoman into a runoff, Hayden became more interested. But by then it was Galanter who declined help, implying that Hayden might do her more harm than good in more conservative pockets of the district such as Westchester.
Hayden, however, was not inclined to take no-thank-you for an answer. Because he supported her slow-growth policies and other issues, the assemblyman considered an independent campaign on Galanter's behalf.
Then the other shoe dropped. "Within a very few days, I began to hear from representatives of Russell who did not want me to get involved," Hayden said. "Their arguments were that if I got involved they would run a negative smear campaign. They said it would also hurt my long-term political prospects."