Three challengers in the race to unseat Los Angeles Councilman Mike Woo--including the two front-runners--have failed to qualify for the ballot, leaving Woo and three relatively unknown candidates in the April 11 contest.
Bennett Kayser, former president of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns. and the candidate who was expected to give Woo the toughest fight, fell 99 valid signatures short of the 500 needed to qualify, the city clerk's office said Tuesday. Kayser had submitted 598 signatures, but 197 were found to be invalid.
Tony Trias, a former Los Angeles school board member from the Hollywood area, fell short by 170 valid signatures, the clerk's office said. Trias submitted 571 signatures, but 241 were determined to be invalid.
Postal Clerk Disqualified
A third candidate, Howard Obata, was also disqualified. Obata, a postal clerk who is relatively unknown in the district, submitted 657 signatures, but 284 were invalid, the clerk's office said.
In addition to Woo, three candidates qualified for the ballot: Berndt Lohr-Schmidt, an attorney who has opposed Woo's efforts to impose restrictions on hillside building; Venus De Milo, a computer consultant who ran unsuccessfully for mayor and county supervisor, and Zahrina Machadah, a business consultant from Beachwood Canyon.
To qualify, a candidate must submit 500 valid signatures of registered voters in the district. In the cases of Kayser, Trias and Obata, the clerk's office said, some of the signatures were of residents outside the district. Others signed petitions for more than one candidate or were not registered to vote.
"It is an incredible disappointment," said Kayser, director of Save Hollywood Our Town, a residents group opposed to Hollywood redevelopment. Kayser was reviewing the petitions Tuesday afternoon to determine if he will challenge the clerk's ruling. He also signed a declaration of intent to run as a write-in candidate.
"Woo will have a slow-growth candidate against him whether it is my name on the ballot or as a write-in," Kayser said.
Trias could not be reached for comment. Obata said he fell short because he miscalculated how many signatures he would need to compensate for the invalid ones.
Woo said the disqualifications--particularly that of Kayser--point to a general level of satisfaction in the district with his record the past four years. Woo represents the 13th District, which includes parts of Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Silver Lake and Echo Park as well as Hollywood and Los Feliz.
"I think it means there isn't a large constituency for any candidate who claims Mike Woo is too soft on developers," Woo said.
With the disqualifications, several City Hall observers speculated that Lohr-Schmidt would emerge as the leading challenger. Woo said he welcomed the turn of events.
"I don't think there is a lot of room in the race for a pro-development candidate," Woo said.
Lohr-Schmidt, who rejects the pro-development label, predicted that he will defeat Woo.
"The only pro-development candidate on the ballot is Mr. Woo himself," Lohr-Schmidt said.