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ELECTIONS: CITY COUNCIL : Leading Challenger Exits Campaign : Politics: John A. Altschul cites fund-raising woes and dissension among backers. He also didn't receive a key endorsement from a tenants rights group.

March 19, 1992|KEN ELLINGWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WEST HOLLYWOOD — The field of candidates for the West Hollywood City Council shrank to five this week with the surprise withdrawal of John A. Altschul, who was widely considered the leading challenger.

Altschul said he had trouble raising the money it would have taken to unseat one of the two incumbents, and he cited "distressing" divisions among his supporters. He also said he was discouraged by the decision of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a potent tenants rights group, not to endorse him.

The tenants group has endorsed only incumbent Abbe Land, a tenant activist and member of the group's local steering committee, but it left open the possibility of endorsing someone for the second open seat before the April 14 election.

In the seven years since West Hollywood became a city, only one council candidate has won without the backing of the Coalition for Economic Survival. In 1988, the group endorsed Land and, in the last days of the campaign, also backed Paul Koretz, who is now mayor.

"It is not practical to invest the kind of money required to wait to the 23rd hour and be at the whim of factors outside of the realm of predictability," Altschul said in a statement.

Altschul, a 55-year-old lawyer, is well-known as a member of the city's Public Safety Commission. He had sought to weld a campaign coalition of groups that often are at each other's throats. For example, he had won the endorsements of council members Sal Guarriello and John Heilman, who clash on most issues.

Altschul, whose campaign had been less aggressive than expected, urged candidates to concentrate on parking and traffic issues, the current budget crunch and the need for more police patrols.

The most likely beneficiary of Altschul's withdrawal is Koretz, who is viewed as the most vulnerable incumbent and Altschul's main rival for financial backing and endorsements.

"Obviously this will make my life a lot easier as a candidate, but I think our race will miss his point of view," Koretz said. Koretz was the only candidate to gain the endorsement of the city's Stonewall Democratic Club, which focuses on gay, lesbian and feminist issues even though Altschul and Robert John Pierson were the only openly gay candidates.

The other candidates are Rachelle Sommers Smith and George N. Rumanes. Two other people had filed to run but failed to provide enough valid signatures to appear on the ballot.

Pierson, who directs an urban-studies program at USC, hopes to benefit as the remaining gay candidate. A political newcomer, Pierson said he has been working the phones this week to get support from the gay press and from gay activists who had backed Altschul. Altschul, whose name will stay on the ballot, said he is not likely to endorse any of the remaining candidates.

Altschul said he had estimated that it would cost $50,000 to mount a campaign strong enough to compete with the incumbents. But he said that the recession had dried up funding from business contributors who in normal years give to several candidates. Altschul said he was losing out to Koretz in wooing donors and was unwilling to pay out of his own pocket the $30,000 to $35,000 that he felt the race would have required.

Bickering among Altschul's supporters had become "most distressing to me," he said. He declined to give details publicly but said that in recent days "many of my friends became very critical of each other in the name of the campaign process."

His withdrawal makes any shake-up of the City Council this year less likely. Though the seats are at-large, Smith has aimed her fire mostly at the formidable Land, a one-time political sponsor with whom she has broken. That would leave Pierson and Rumanes, who has been all but invisible so far, to challenge Koretz head-on for the other seat.

"I think that Paul (Koretz) and Abbe (Land) have reason to be optimistic," said Jeffrey Prang, president of the West Hollywood Democratic Club and an Altschul backer. "I think you're going to see status quo." Prang said he now might endorse Pierson.

Guarriello said he was "shocked" that Altschul would drop out of the race so late and had not decided whether to make a new endorsement. He also backed Smith. Heilman, who has endorsed Land, said he is also considering endorsing Koretz.

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