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Riordan, Woo Both Claim Boost From Week's Events : Politics: Public's focus on trial helps front-runners, who disagree whether law-and-order appeals remain effective.

April 18, 1993|FRANK CLIFFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Frozen in place while the city held its breath, the Los Angeles mayor's race now takes up where it left off, a struggle to overtake two front-runners whose campaigns alone benefited from the public's weeklong preoccupation with the jury deliberations in the Rodney G. King civil rights case.

With only two days to go before Tuesday's primary election, camps of the two leading candidates, City Councilman Michael Woo and businessman Richard Riordan, both are claiming the advantage.

"It's the political watershed event of the campaign," said Woo's media consultant, Bill Knapp on Saturday. "Riordan's campaign was rooted in law and order and fears for personal safety. That's how he was going to get Democrats to defect from Mike. Assuming the city stays calm, I don't think people are going to feel they need a reactionary on crime."

The Riordan campaign strongly disputed the notion that peace after the verdicts would take away from Riordan's law-and-order message.

"It's not like this week is the first time people have felt unsafe in this city," said Riordan spokeswoman Annette Castro. "People have felt unsafe for a long time."

City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, a colleague of Woo who has not endorsed anyone in the race, said that the fear of crime will not be dispelled by the absence of rioting, and that the appeal of Riordan's get-tough message is not about to fade.

"People getting stabbed at ATM machines, my own deputy getting shot, my own car being smashed up in front of my own house four nights ago by vandals. . . . There is a compelling argument for a tough message. And I think you're seeing that in Riordan's rise in the polls."

For the rest of the 22 candidates, the diversionary effect of the trial may have scuttled their last chance to catch Riordan and Woo.

"What we have just gone through is a nightmare for most of the candidates," said Paul Clarke, a political consultant who is not working for anyone in the race. "After the weekend they have one day to create some sort of presence. That means virtually no chance to get out last-minute messages or affect attitudes."

The past week did not change the essential character of the race--a heated contest between two candidates who represent opposing traditions in Los Angeles politics.

Riordan is a 62-year-old multimillionaire and venture capitalist who says he would bring order to the streets and free market values to City Hall. His oft-publicized endorsements by former President Ronald Reagan and other Republican stalwarts cast him in the mold of white Anglo-Saxon conservatism that built the city but is sometimes accused of doing it on the backs of poor and minority residents.

Woo, the 41-year-old grandson of immigrants and a product of the 1960s, seems quite happy to be portrayed as an ideological liberal who is committed to government intervention in the lives of disadvantaged residents.

It is Woo's hope to be seen as a strong but compassionate leader, as the city councilman who fought hardest to oust former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and as the mayoral candidate who is best qualified to unite the city's ethnic factions.

Instead of heading to his Hollywood council district after the verdicts, where rioting was intense after the outcome of the first King case, Woo went first to South-Central Los Angeles, a part of town that he does not represent but which is crucial to his campaign success.

Addressing campaign volunteers, Woo praised the verdicts.

"The verdicts were fair. . . . The justice system has worked," he told 50 African-American volunteers who were gathered at his South-Central field office at 84th and Vermont.

But Woo then talked about the importance of solving the social and economic causes of urban violence.

"The verdict didn't produce any jobs. . . . That is the unfinished business ahead of us," he said.

"We need to continue the movement for change and reform and to close the gap between the haves and have-nots."

Sensitive to criticism that he is part of an ineffectual local government, Woo attributed the peace and quiet of Saturday morning, in large part, to the preparations of city officials, in particular, Police Chief Willie L. Williams.

"It demonstrates that city government can rise to the occasion," he said.

In the Riordan camp, partisans said that the events Saturday were victories for an embattled Establishment of which Riordan, a prominent lawyer and businessman, is a leading representative.

"There are those who say Dick Riordan represents the system, and today we saw the system at work. It delivered," said Riordan supporter Warren W. Valdry, vice president of One Hundred Black Men, a nationwide organization that promotes economic development and youth opportunity in African-American communities.

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