Looking at the four Los Angeles City Council seats at stake in the June 8 election, the potential for change is clear--the council will get at least two new faces and possibly as many as four, depending on the fortunes of longtime incumbents Joy Picus and Joan Milke Flores.
But to call this a season of upheaval at City Hall would be a mistake. Maybe downright misleading. Because none of the council candidates is really a stranger to local politics.
Picus' challenger, Laura Chick, used to work for her as an aide. Flores' opponent, businessman Rudy Svorinich, was once chief of staff to a local state assemblyman.
And in races for two open seats on the council, former school board member Jackie Goldberg is running against Tom LaBonge, longtime aide to council President John Ferraro, while Richard Alarcon, on leave as an assistant to Mayor Tom Bradley, is running against Lyle Hall, a former city firefighters' union president who almost won election to the council four years ago.
"It is somewhat the year of the outsider," quips political consultant Harvey Englander. "But it is an outsider who knows the way to the bathroom."
Still, the contests hold promise for change since new lawmakers can bring new ideas, personnel and energy to their jobs. Here is how the races shape up:
After four terms in office, Picus is feeling the heat from Chick in a fight to represent the southwestern San Fernando Valley. And to hear some pundits tell it, Picus is vulnerable to the same pressure as the incumbent she unseated 16 years ago: Voter desire for change.
"I think she has just overstayed her welcome," said Rick Taylor, a political consultant whose candidate, Dennis Zine, finished third in the primary. Zine has since endorsed Chick.
"I don't think it's that Joy has been a horrible councilperson or anything like that," Taylor said. "She's just been there too long."
That theme has been a cornerstone of Chick's campaign. Directed by Englander, it has tried to portray Picus, 62, as a tired and ineffective politician concerned with crime and other district problems only at election time.
As Picus' field deputy from 1989 to 1991, Chick, 48, also argues she has the experience to immediately re-energize the office. "I have seen how things need to be done differently and I have seen inefficiencies in departments . . . and all of these things are an advantage to me because I'll be able to hit the ground running," said Chick, a consultant for a North Hollywood community relations firm.
But while she touts her background, Chick bristles at the notion she is a political insider, even if her husband, Robert, was one of Mayor Tom Bradley's longest serving commissioners, most recently at the Department of Airports.
"I get very emotional about that," she said. "I'm very proud of Robert. He has been an unpaid political volunteer who put in a lot of time for the city. But as for a close friend, a close crony, even a close ally of Mayor Bradley, that is absolutely not true."
But just as Chick has sought to depict Picus as an out-of-touch incumbent, the councilwoman and her campaign have labeled the challenger a City Hall insider pretending to be an outsider.
"Laura is masquerading as a political neophyte and we have to take the luster off her," said Bill Carrick, a prominent Democratic consultant advising Picus' campaign. "This is no fresh face (in politics)," he said of Chick. "This isn't Mrs. Smith goes to City Hall."
To convey their messages, both candidates have waged increasingly tough campaigns. Picus is claiming a Chick victory would be a "hostile takeover" of the district by "Tom Bradley's cronies." Chick has countered that Picus is herself a tool of special interests by virtue of more than $500,000 in campaign contributions over the years from developers and other big business lobbyists at City Hall.
If this race hinged on who had the most endorsements from former candidates for the seat, Hall would be the clear winner over Alarcon in the runoff to succeed retiring Councilman Ernani Bernardi.
Since Hall placed first in a seven-person primary with 23% of the vote, his campaign has been endorsed by all of the losing candidates except fourth-place finisher Raymond Magana.
But a victory in this largely working-class district in the northeast San Fernando Valley, including Pacoima, will depend on more than endorsements. So Hall, 53, said he is working longer hours and spending more money than in the primary. By Election Day, he expects his campaign will cost up to $150,000--more than twice what was spent on the primary, when he was fifth in spending.
Although placing first in the primary, Hall won only 4% more of the vote than Alarcon, who is seeking to become the first Latino elected to a Valley seat on the council.
As a Latino, Alarcon said at a debate early this month, he can bring "whatever wisdom and information comes from that experience" to the problems of Latinos in the district.