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Decision '92 : VOTING IN THE VALLEY / AN ELECTION GUIDE : CONGRESS / 26th DISTRICT : Berman Getting to Know His New District

October 25, 1992|ALAN C. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — When new congressional district lines were drawn earlier this year, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) got some bad news: He lost choice communities in the Hollywood Hills that were affluent, heavily Jewish and liberal.

But he also got some good news: His new 26th District was even more Democratic than his old one.

Berman's East Valley district extends from north of the Ventura Freeway to Pacoima and San Fernando. Stripped of Studio City, Sherman Oaks and Encino, the Van Nuys- and North Hollywood-based district is far less well-to-do and populated far more heavily by minorities: 53% of the residents are Latinos.

More significantly, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 58% to 31%.

Berman, a liberal five-term lawmaker, does not face a serious challenge--despite 67 overdrafts at the scandal-ridden House bank.

Republican nominee Gary Forsch, a conservative Sun Valley hardware store manager who hopes to raise a $60,000 war chest, says he has largely pinned his hopes on anti-incumbency lightning striking. Berman has $205,000 in his campaign fund.

Berman, 51, has never had to campaign hard to win big majorities. But after moving his permanent residence to Sherman Oaks from the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Md., in August of last year, he is doing more than usual in this fall of voter discontent.

"It's a new district, there are new areas, and being a member of Congress is not necessarily an automatic attracter of electoral support," Berman said. "I'm not going to let myself get surprised."

Berman's major roles in the House are in foreign affairs, arms control and immigration. He is chairman of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on international operations and sits on the Judiciary and Budget committees. He was an early critic of U.S. exports to Saddam Hussein's Iraq and broke ranks with the Democratic leadership to vote for authorizing the Gulf War.

But given the economic distress in his district--which has been racked by the closing of General Motors and Lockheed facilities--he is stressing his initiatives closest to home.

Chief among these is a fledgling effort to establish an electric car and advanced mass-transit industry in Southern California, which could re-employ highly skilled workers who have lost their jobs as a result of defense cutbacks or the departure of aerospace and auto companies. Berman has been a driving force behind the formation of CALSTART, a Burbank-based public/private consortium that has raised $20 million to start a high-tech transportation hub.

The goal, Berman said, is to find commercial uses for aerospace-engineered technologies "that serve consumer needs and environmental needs and, most importantly of all, transfer highly skilled, good-wage jobs."

He is also touting an anti-gang program run out of his district office that has led gang members to enroll in Mission College, transport food and clothing to homeless shelters and paint Pacoima Elementary School. And he's highlighting his efforts to obtain federal funds to restore Hansen Dam in the northeast Valley. This year, he got $2.2 million into the budget.

Forsch, 41, contends that Berman is a Washingtonian who is out of touch with his constituents. Berman's Sherman Oaks home is in his current district but is not within the new boundaries. He said he is contemplating relocating to a house within the new district when his lease expires next year, "but we haven't made any final decision."

Forsch said Berman deserves some of the blame for current economic woes because he has voted for higher taxes and more regulation. "Mr. Berman has sat there in D.C. while things have gone south here," Forsch said.

One example Forsch cited is the 1990 Clean Air Act. Without amendments, Forsch said, he would have voted against the landmark bill because it will foster lawsuits.

Berman responded that the act was necessary to curb pollution, which represents a threat to both health and the environment. The push for environmental cleanup, he added, can create new jobs making sophisticated pollution-control technologies. He said the economy is a shambles, in part, because the 1981 tax cut pushed through by President Ronald Reagan offered massive incentives for commercial overbuilding and led to the enormous federal budget deficit.

If elected, Forsch said, he would seek to use his office to spur a crackdown on crime and whittle the bureaucracy in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

A member of the conservative Republican Assembly, Forsch lost the GOP primary in the 26th District in 1990. He attended UCLA for three years.

"This year is different than other years," Forsch said. "Things that used to be slam-dunks aren't working. If the anti-incumbent fervor strikes my district, he's in trouble. If it doesn't, I'm history."

In an interview, Forsch did not mention Berman's check overdrafts. Berman has apologized, saying: "I regret having been part of the process."

Also running in the 26th District are Libertarian Bernard Zimring, a Van Nuys contractor, and Peace and Freedom candidate Margery Hinds, a Los Angeles medical assistant.

26th District

Where: The district includes the communities of Arleta, Pacoima, Panorama City, San Fernando, Sylmar and Valley Village, and portions of Lake View Terrace, North Hollywood, Sun Valley, Sunland and Van Nuys. To find out if you live in the district, call the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's office at (213) 721-1100.

Candidates:

Howard L. Berman, Democrat, congressman

Margery Hinds, Peace and Freedom, medical assistant

Gary Forsch, Republican, businessman

Bernard Zimring, Libertarian, contractor

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