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ELECTIONS / VALLEY ROUNDUP : NEWS ANALYSIS : Area Is Riordan Country, Times Exit Poll Finds

April 22, 1993|RICHARD LEE COLVIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A jittery San Fernando Valley electorate turned to conservative businessman Richard Riordan in large numbers, helping boost him far above the crowded field of candidates in the city's mayoral race, a Times exit poll showed.

Citywide, Riordan finished with 33% of the votes, but among Valley voters his support grew to 42%. Runner-up Michael Woo, who drew 24% of the votes citywide, fell to fourth place among Valley voters with only 12%, the poll found.

The poll also showed that the key issues for Valley voters were the region's sluggish economy, crime and gangs. Voters who supported Riordan were slightly more likely than his supporters in the rest of the city to cite his pro-business stance, and nearly half said their personal finances are in worse shape now than four years ago.

Perhaps as a result of those financial concerns, Valley voters also were influential in the defeat of city Proposition 1, which would have raised property taxes to pay for hiring 1,000 additional police officers.

The measure, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass, received 59% support citywide. But, according to the poll, Valley voters were about evenly split on the measure, with 52% for and 48% against.

In contrast, the measure won the support of 67% of Westside voters, 63% of voters in the city's central areas and 61% in communities in the southern area of the city.

The Times poll interviewed 2,816 voters citywide, 1,224 of those from the Valley. The citywide results are accurate to plus or minus 3 points; those for the Valley are subject to slightly greater variation.

The makeup of the poll sample provided dramatic evidence of how affluent, white voters influenced the outcome of the election out of proportion to their numbers in the population. Although the 1990 census found that only 58.4% of Valley residents are white, they represented 85% of the voters who cast ballots Tuesday.

Forty percent of the Valley voters identified themselves as Republicans, compared to 32% citywide. Seventy-four percent said they owned their homes, compared to 64% citywide.

Riordan's support also roughly followed economic lines. He drew his strongest backing in the northwest Valley's 12th Council District, where he received 49% of the votes cast. Woo was supported by 11% of the voters there. He also won 44% of the votes in the 3rd Council District, based in Woodland Hills and West Hills. Woo won 12% of the votes there.

Jadine Nielson, Riordan's campaign manager, credited his success among Valley voters to hard work and a tight organization. He "walked precincts in every neighborhood from Sylmar to San Pedro" and met with numerous "house parties" of 20 to 100 people to discuss his ideas, she said.

"The Valley results are a reflection of that . . . grass roots" effort, she said. "It was growing slowly, and then in the past three weeks it really kicked in in a terrific way."

Riordan's opposition to the police-tax ballot measure and his plan to hire 3,000 additional police officers by leasing out Los Angeles International Airport, as well as his pro-business politics, also struck chords in the Valley.

Half the voters sampled said the economy was the No. 1 issue in their minds, and 39% said their biggest concern was crime and gangs.

Woo's camp attributed his weak showing in the Valley to the power of two well-known Valley moderates, Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) and City Councilman Joel Wachs, whose meandering 2nd District includes much of the East Valley.

Garry South, the Woo campaign's communications director, said Riordan spent a great deal of money targeting a specific group of affluent Republican voters and that his support is unlikely to grow much in the runoff.

"Riordan was going after voters who were uniquely his to get," South said. Woo, Katz and Wachs and several other strong candidates were "competing in the same voter pool with messages that weren't that far apart. I believe the voters for those candidates are going to feel more comfortable with Mike Woo than with Dick Riordan."

The Times exit poll seemed to confirm that assessment but also presented Woo with a challenge in the runoff. The poll found that Woo was supported by only 17% of Valley Democrats and 18% of the voters who identified themselves as white liberals. "Basically, his vote was cannibalized by Wachs and Katz," said poll Director John Brennan.

But, asked to choose between Woo and Riordan in the runoff, the Valley voters tipped even further toward Riordan. About 54% of the Valley voters who did not back either Woo or Riordan in the primary said they would choose Riordan in the runoff. Only 24% said they would back Woo. The remainder said they couldn't yet make a selection.

Predictably, Katz did well in the northeast Valley, winning 20% of the votes cast in the 7th City Council District and 16% Valleywide, according to city figures and the poll. That showing put him about even with Wachs.

But both candidates lost ground outside the Valley and fell to fourth and third respectively.

Peter Taylor, Katz's campaign manager, said Katz and Riordan started the campaign neck-and-neck, with each getting about 4% support, according to polls. But he said Riordan's personal wealth made it possible to expand his base of support while Katz's strength remained limited to the northeast Valley.

"We had the typical problem of a middle-of-the-road guy," said Taylor. "Woo appeals to people on the left, Riordan to people on the right."

Times staff writer Hugo Martin contributed to this article.

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