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Decision '92 : VOTING IN THE VALLEY / AN ELECTION GUIDE : STATE SENATE / 23rd DISTRICT : Hayden Campaigns Hard, Despite Big Lead

October 25, 1992|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After surviving a bitter, expensive and down-to-the-wire primary campaign, Assemblyman Tom Hayden is still campaigning diligently, looking nervously over his shoulder as he heads down the home stretch in the race for the 23rd state Senate District seat.

Only this time around, there's no one remotely close behind him. After beating popular incumbent Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles) by only 580 votes in the June 2 Democratic primary, Hayden is all but assured of victory.

Created in the recent reapportionment, the 23rd encompasses nearly all of the Westside and southern San Fernando Valley and is among the most overwhelmingly liberal districts in the state--a perfect match for the former radical activist turned progressive.

Hayden's main opposition now comes from Republican challenger Leonard H. (Len) McRoskey, a businessman who has never held elective office and who had to wage a last-minute write-in campaign just to get on the ballot.

McRoskey dropped out of the race in September, saying the demographics made it impossible for him to win, only to re-enter in early October.

So why does Hayden keep on campaigning so hard?

"I take nothing for granted," he says. "I don't think voters like people who take things for granted."

Hayden also said he anticipates a possible last-minute charge by McRoskey and the Republican Party, including an onslaught of negative campaign mailers. McRoskey won't comment.

But more important, Hayden says, after nearly 10 years in the Assembly, he is eager to get cracking on the many new initiatives he plans to introduce now that he has graduated to the Legislature's upper house. And, he says, stumping is a way to refine his ideas and articulate them to the 750,000 potential constituents in the vast district, including a large number of voters he has never represented before.

As he works his way around the campaign trail, Hayden, 52, is still smarting from a primary that ranked among the most expensive and rancorous state Senate races ever.

The five-term assemblyman spent more than $875,000. Rosenthal spent more than $975,000 and received a lot of help from the powerful Westside political organization known as the Berman-Waxman machine. Both candidates waged vigorous direct-mail campaigns, in the process practically burying Catherine O'Neill, an underfinanced public relations consultant from Pacific Palisades trying to enter politics after another failed state Senate bid 20 years earlier.

The slugfest got ugly near the end, with a flurry of accusations and campaign hit pieces. Rosenthal compared Hayden to Republicans George Bush and Richard Nixon. O'Neill accused Hayden of being a "pathological liar" and a "vicious campaigner" for his efforts to portray her as a carpetbagger and opponent of rent control.

In the end, Hayden won in a cliffhanger, successfully risking a less-than-safe Assembly seat for a chance to take his political agenda to a larger constituency. And even though he would be a freshman, Hayden says he expects to play an important role in what he calls the "E" issues--the environment, education and economics.

As always, the former radical political activist is railing against "the special-interest state in Sacramento," organized lobbying influences that he says control the legislative process at the expense of the public. He wants more emphasis on public financing of campaigns, to wean incumbents off their reliance on those special interests.

Hayden cites his race as illustrative of the need for reform. He notes that he was able to spend much of his own money on the race thanks to his former marriage to actress Jane Fonda, but that most other candidates cannot. "I'm an accident, or an exception," he says, "because I have independent funds."

On the environmental front, Hayden wants to continue his efforts to protect Santa Monica Bay and wants to get involved in efforts to curb development in the Santa Monica Mountains, which lie in the district. He wants to promote use of electric cars, and often drives an electrically powered Ford Escort while campaigning.

Hayden also wants to reform and decentralize public education, and supports a breakup of the Los Angeles Unified School District. And he wants to set up businesses in South Los Angeles to help rebuild riot-torn areas and provide much-needed jobs.

McRoskey, "a healthy 73," is a former Reagan administration official who also defines himself as a reform-minded candidate. He entered the race because he saw no other Republicans willing to take on the winner of the Democratic primary. After dropping out, he says, a groundswell of support from Republicans and disaffected Democrats alike prompted him to get back in.

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