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LOCAL ELECTIONS / L.A. MAYOR : Riordan, Woo Stick to Issues in Valley : Campaign: They meet church group they had earlier snubbed. Both steer clear of personal attacks.


Courting a group they snubbed weeks ago, mayoral candidates Michael Woo and Richard Riordan made a cordial joint appearance Sunday before a San Fernando Valley coalition of church and synagogue members.

Sitting amiably elbow to elbow, the two addressed about 1,000 members of VOICE, Valley Organized in Community Efforts, a nonprofit group active in anti-crime and youth programs. Their presence underscored VOICE's emerging clout and the battle for the Valley, home to 40% of the city's voters.

Before the April primary, both men had riled VOICE when they backed out at the last minute from a forum attended by other mayoral candidates.

But Sunday was different.

For one thing, this audience at Cal State Northridge got something that seems almost impossible to get from any candidate: one-word answers, yes or no, to a checklist of questions.

Granted, the questions were not exactly fastballs: Will you require that a fair share of all new police be assigned to the San Fernando Valley? Will you commit to meet quarterly with VOICE leaders? The only "no" was not even really a "no": When Riordan was asked whether he would pledge $2.5 million a year to a youth program, he said no, and paused. Then he said he would pledge $5 million a year.

And unlike an acrimonious Saturday forum at First African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the candidates traded the harshest attacks of the campaign, Woo and Riordan stuck to specific answers to issues, and steered clear of assaults on character.

Decrying political rhetoric, Father Tom Rush from Mary Immaculate Church in Pacoima opened Sunday's forum by admonishing candidates who attack each other and not the city's problems.

"They tend to demean us by asking us to come down to their level . . . and we wonder why so many people have dropped out of the electoral process," Rush said.

"We are here to see which of the candidates support our platform. We are here to be the voice of the Valley . . . to see if the candidates have really come to listen or just pander for votes," Rush added.

Though generally acknowledged to hold the upper hand among Valley voters, Republican Riordan was not taking that support for granted Sunday. Arriving early and leaving late to talk with voters, the multimillionaire businessman told the multiethnic crowd that he was the candidate who would listen to their concerns and move City Hall to address them.

"We are all gathered here today because we care about the city of Los Angeles and we're fed up with the vacuum of leadership in this city," Riordan said.

Woo agreed to the same checklist, such as increasing the Los Angeles Police Department to 9,500 officers over the next four years, launching an anti-graffiti effort in the west San Fernando Valley and continuing city funding for the outreach program "Hope in Youth."

"The fundamental choice in this campaign," Woo said, "is who can you trust to make L.A. a city that works for everybody?"

After the event, which also included remarks from candidates for the City Council, several organizers said both men made good impressions, but added that Woo still seems to have more political ground to make up than Riordan.

"Woo did himself some good here by showing up, but his campaign still seems in the disarray that (President) Bill Clinton's was six weeks before the election," said Carrie Biggs-Adams of Canoga Park. "Clinton finally turned it around. The problem is Woo doesn't have six weeks left before the election."

Earlier, the candidates showed up at Exodus 93, a daylong celebration of Jewish art and culture at Pierce Community College. By arrangement, neither spoke at the open-air event, but both took advantage of the large crowd to shake hands and show interest in the Valley's Jewish community, estimated at 250,000 people.

Times staff writer Chip Johnson contributed to this story.

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