Twenty-eight years ago, a wave of public indignation over plans to carve a major highway across the Santa Monica Mountains swept Marvin Braude onto the Los Angeles City Council.
Then as now, he championed preserving parkland in the rugged range that forms a natural divide between the Westside and the San Fernando Valley.
From that first successful fight to block the mountain highway and create a regional park instead, Braude built a political career around protecting the environment.
His determination to preserve the quality of life in the city's most affluent council district won him the ultimate compliment for a politician--no one challenged him for reelection during the last dozen years.
But Los Angeles today is not the same place it was four years ago when voters sent Braude--unopposed--back to City Hall for a seventh term.
This time, a divided city, plagued by crime, weakened by a troubled economy, and struggling to recover from last year's riots, is not focused on environmental protection. And this time, the 72-year-old councilman faces two opponents--both of them newcomers to politics with limited campaign resources.
One issue dominates the low-key campaign in the upscale and overwhelmingly Anglo 11th Council District. From Palms to Pacific Palisades, Brentwood to Encino, and Woodland Hills to Van Nuys, that issue is crime.
"We've had enormous increases in crime," said Braude, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee.
Braude readily acknowledges that Los Angeles needs substantially more police officers on the street. He is sponsoring a measure on the April 20 ballot to raise property taxes to pay for 1,000 more officers. A similar measure, that he also sponsored, fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for approval last November.
"We have to have a city that is based on law and order, and we have to have a system of tough cops to enforce the laws," Braude said.
But his opponents fault him, along with the rest of the council, for failing to provide an adequate police force.
Daniel Pritikin, 27, a West Los Angeles attorney, said Braude bears responsibility for Los Angeles being "the most under-policed major city in the nation."
The number of officers on the street at any one time is "woefully low," Pritikin said. "It's no wonder people are just frightened."
"Crime is up dramatically," said Braude's other challenger, John B. Handal II, 39, president of the Brentwood Village Chamber of Commerce.
Handal, an outspoken businessman who operates two Italian restaurants in Brentwood, can describe incident after incident where people in the posh neighborhood have been assaulted and robbed, including an afternoon attack that sent him to the hospital for four days two years ago.
He said the number of police officers on the streets is too low and response times are too long. "This is traumatic. This is scary," Handal said. "The first issue is fear."
Handal blames the City Council for allowing Los Angeles to deteriorate and Braude for not paying enough attention to the city's problems, particularly crime.
For his part, Braude said, he was thrust into the leadership of police reform efforts in the wake of the videotaped police beating of Rodney G. King.
Braude was named chairman of an ad hoc council committee to act on the recommendations of the Christopher Commission, which investigated use of force and racism in the Los Angeles Police Department. He counts the commission's chairman, Warren Christopher, now U.S. secretary of state, among his campaign contributors.
After the Christopher Commission issued its report, Braude backed last spring's successful ballot measure to reform the Police Department and establish a system of community-based policing in which officers try to establish closer relationships with neighborhood businesses and residents.
"How can we expect to have more jobs and businesses if we can't have a city in which people have confidence in the Police Department?" he asked.
Both Pritikin and Handal blame Braude, however, for doing nothing to help the city prepare for the riots that followed last April's verdicts in the King case.
Braude responds by criticizing the Police Department and former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates.
"We thought we had a Police Department that was the best in the world, but in the moment of crisis, the Police Department failed us," Braude said.
With new Police Chief Willie L. Williams, Braude said, the department is moving "forcefully in the right direction" and is "much better prepared than we have ever been" to respond to any new disturbance.
Although Braude and his opponents agree that the city needs substantially more police to establish community-based policing, they differ sharply over how to pay for them.
Unlike the incumbent, both challengers oppose the ballot measure to raise property taxes for more police. Handal said the city has to "stop soaking property owners." Pritikin said the proposed tax would hit individuals and struggling businesses hard.