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Griego Stakes Long-Shot Candidacy on Television : Politics: Ignoring signs, buttons and lavishly printed mailers, the campaign's only Latina is concentrating her relatively meager funds on coming into voters' living rooms through TV.

April 11, 1993|MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Linda Griego is doing live TV in an Eastside studio that is far from plush. Construction workers in the next room nearly drown out her words. The fake tree between her and cable television host Xavier Torres appears ready to topple.

"Welcome to 'Que Pasa, La Raza?' " Torres tells the camera.

Television, in the form of costly commercials and a series of free spots on local cable stations, has become the lifeblood of Griego's campaign for mayor of Los Angeles. With the April 20 election nine days away and not enough time or money to hit the campaign trail in the traditional sense, the only politically prominent woman in the race is relying on a major, eleventh-hour transformation of viewers into voters.

Do not bother calling Griego's campaign headquarters for a lawn sign. Forget about asking for a button, a glossy campaign brochure or an invitation to her next rally, either. They do not have any.

Mayoral rival Stan Sanders may be on his third pair of shoes from his campaign walks. And Richard Riordan's glitzy book may reflect more light than the mimeographed position papers Griego distributes from time to time.

For Griego, a woman who rarely watches television, it is the airwaves that will make or break her long-shot effort to succeed Mayor Tom Bradley. She is staking everything--although she has a fraction of her rivals' campaign funds--on entering the living rooms of voters. Figuratively, that is. No time for the real thing.

"It's really a question of arithmetic," said Griego's campaign manager, Roy Behr. "How do you reach as many voters as possible, as efficiently as possible, as fast as possible? . . . Sometimes people who are used to seeing the trappings of a small race--things like signs and rallies--want to see it in a large race. No one votes based on what they read on a sign."

Virtually invisible on the campaign trail until several weeks ago, Griego made a splash with what is now referred to as the ad: Here comes Griego strolling across a stage surrounded by her rivals. She is in bright red. They are in black and white. She is talking tough. They are made of cardboard.

The notion first came to David Doak, Griego's media consultant, when Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Tourists would line up on the sidewalk outside to be photographed with a cardboard cutout of the President. The idea stuck.

Years later, it has turned into Griego's way of showing that she is different from a sea of male rivals all saying similar things. The words on the screen at the end of the ad say: "Linda Griego. The Big Change."

Besides giving the former deputy mayor a public image that she sorely lacked, the ad brought a bit of humor into the sometimes numbing routine of the campaign trail. Some candidates even joked that they looked better in cardboard. (The rivals' heads were superimposed on cutouts of Behr's 6-foot-1, 180-pound body.)

Transforming the soft-spoken Griego into a television personality has not been easy. At first, she froze up when the red light went on. Even now, Behr sometimes has to wave his arms from backstage to get her to look into the camera.

Off-camera, Griego continues to have difficulty at public forums, where some of her more boisterous opponents inevitably steal the show. She has attended about 20 so far, her campaign estimates, far less than some of the other second-tier candidates such as Sanders, former school board member Julian Nava and Councilman Nate Holden.

"She is not assertive, vigorous, dynamic or forceful," said David Stephan, an uncommitted voter who saw Griego at a debate last week and called her office to put in his two cents worth. "She's nice and pleasant but she's bland. She fades into the woodwork."

The last few months, however, have taught Griego a few tricks.

She pulls an AK-47 bullet from her purse again and again to highlight her contention that all handguns and ammunition ought to be banned in the city. The bullet came from a Los Angeles gun shop and could not look meaner.

And at her news conference announcing her anti-gun plan, Griego was ready with a string of violent tales from her own youth: She told about a nephew who had accidentally shot her cousin, about her brother being wounded by gunfire back in her hometown of Tucumcari, N.M., about a schoolmate who accidentally killed his sister with a gun.

"It is time," she said bluntly, "to disarm Los Angeles."

Uniting Los Angeles is what Councilman Mike Hernandez wanted out of the next mayor. He endorsed Griego, the only Latina to run for the top spot in City Hall, allowing her to tap into some of his grass-roots support. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles) signed on as well.

The big question mark is County Supervisor Gloria Molina. Griego met with her Friday behind closed doors, and some say the popular supervisor is leaning toward Griego but is not convinced that she can pull it off.

Molina is not the only skeptic.

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