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ELECTION PREVIEW : Familiar Names May Be Factor in Council Race : * With two well-known activists in the running, the city's brand of raucous politics may get noisier.


WEST HOLLYWOOD — West Hollywood's noisy politics stand to get a notch louder with two well-known activists and four other candidates trying to unseat City Council members Abbe Land and Paul Koretz.

Attorney John A. Altschul, until recently the chairman of the city's Public Safety Commission, and Rachelle Sommers Smith, a former member of the Rent Stabilization Commission and a publicist for nonprofit groups, are the best-known of the challengers seeking four-year terms on the council.

Others who have filed to run are the Rev. John VonDouris, who ran unsuccessfully in 1990; Robert J. Pierson, a USC professor active in the effort to establish an independent police force in West Hollywood; Burton E. Cutler, a transportation consultant; and George N. Rumanes, a writer and studio lighting director.

The election for the two at-large seats takes place April 14.

With four lesser-known candidates in the race, the campaign for now has the look of two one-on-one races.

Koretz is viewed as the more vulnerable of the two incumbents. He made it clear in an interview that he sees Altschul, who is expected to mount a well-financed campaign, as his main challenger.

And, though once allies, Smith and Land are rivals. Smith said she hopes to break up the reigning three-member council majority that includes Land, John Heilman and Babette Lang. Smith, who is prominent among a group of activists consistently critical of that alliance, led a failed attempt to recall Heilman.

No single defining issue stands out so far, although in interviews candidates most often mentioned crime, the pace of development, parking, the city's struggle to meet its bills, and their commitment to rent control. But, if past races are any guide, the campaign is just as likely to come down to who survives the city's bare-knuckle brand of politics.

Land, who first was elected to the council in 1986 and was top vote-getter in a field of five in 1988, is expected again to carry the endorsement of the Coalition for Economic Survival, whose stamp of approval has proven crucial in past council elections.

CES Executive Director Larry Gross said the group has not made any decisions, but he acknowledged that Land, a member of the group's steering committee, is likely to get its support.

A big question is whether the tenants group also will endorse Koretz, the current mayor, who gained CES backing only in the final days of the 1988 race. Only one council candidate has won without the group's endorsement.

Koretz, a CES member, said it is unclear whether the group will endorse two candidates, or only Land. Heilman, who has close ties to the coalition, has endorsed Altschul over Koretz, but Koretz is backed by Lang, who was supported by CES in her last campaign.

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