Los Angeles Councilwoman Ruth Galanter's promise to debate challenger Mary Lee Gray "on any street corner" is not exactly turning out that way.
In several instances, Galanter's campaign has either failed to respond to debate invitations or sought to control aspects of the face-offs.
The machinations appear to be part of an overall Galanter strategy to run a campaign consisting of little more than carefully orchestrated press conferences in hopes of cruising to a second term on June 4.
In the April primary, she fell less than 250 votes shy of an outright majority of votes cast, which would have made the runoff unnecessary. Gray finished a distant second with about 20% of the vote in the 6th District, which includes Venice, Crenshaw, Westchester and Mar Vista.
So far, all of the Galanter press conferences have featured a single theme: the alleged misdeeds of county government--and, by association, of Gray, a senior deputy to County Supervisor Deane Dana who is trying to unseat the one-term councilwoman.
"I think she wants to control the debate setting so that she will be in a good light," said Gray. "Quite frankly, I don't believe she can debate the issues in a neutral setting."
When a Venice community group offered to sponsor a debate, Galanter provided a list of moderators acceptable to her, debate organizers said.
She has also declined to take part in an on-air unmoderated debate with Gray on KCOP Channel 13, insisting instead on back-to-back interviews, according to Marilyn Solomon, executive producer of the Saturday news show A.D.I., which stands for Area of Dominant Influence.
Galanter, moreover, is the only one of the eight council candidates involved in a runoff election who has yet to agree to debate on KABC Channel 7 during the evening news, according to Minni Martinez, the station's executive producer of special projects. Martinez said Galanter campaign consultant Steven Glazer had promised weeks ago to get back to her with a decision on whether Galanter would appear, but has not done so.
Gray contends that Galanter has refused to participate in any debate moderated by the League of Women Voters.
Glazer and Galanter campaign manager Marc Litchman have not returned repeated phone calls from The Times. The press secretary in Galanter's City Council office, Rick Ruiz, said he was not involved in the debate negotiations, so could not discuss them.
Ruiz also declined to provide The Times with a schedule of Galanter's campaign events or other official functions in the district, saying information would be released only on those events "we want publicized."
Among the appearances Galanter did not want publicized is a scheduled $500 fund-raiser on Monday at Engine Co. No. 28, a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles.
Another unpublicized event was a debate at a Baptist church last weekend involving candidates from three council races in which there are large constituencies of black voters.
At that debate, according to an account provided by Gray, Galanter brandished a Democratic mailer that urged a vote for Gray in the primary, telling the group that her opponent is a registered Republican.
Gray said she responded that her inclusion on the slate was evidence of her broad-based support in both parties for the council seat. Technically, City Council elections are nonpartisan.
The fate of future debates being arranged in the district remains problematic.
Gray is balking at taking part in a forum sponsored by the Venice Town Council because of problems with the date and the moderator. Many Venice Town Council members are staunch Galanter allies, and debate organizer Challis Macpherson confirmed that the scheduled moderator, William Rosendahl, was "one of the names Ruth Galanter put forward." Gray said the Town Council simply informed her via a fax message that Rosendahl would be the moderator.
Macpherson, when asked about Gray's accusation that Galanter had rejected a forum by the League of Women Voters, despite the league's national reputation as impartial moderators of candidate debates, replied: "Talk to Steven Glazer about the League of Women Voters."
Glazer had a run-in with the league during the primary campaign at a debate that Galanter, alone among the seven candidates, did not attend. He snatched Galanter's nameplate off the dais in an effort to make her absence less obvious, and was compelled by the outcry from the candidates and debate organizers to restore it. Glazer contended that the league had agreed not to have an empty seat and nameplate, but debate moderator Thea Brodkin said there was no such agreement. Brodkin added that Galanter had never even let them know whether she would attend.