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Decision '93 / Los Angeles County Elections : City Council : 3RD DISTRICT : Former Aide Poses Tough Challenge for Picus

May 30, 1993|JOHN SCHWADA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Four-term Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joy Picus is not only battling the toughest reelection challenge of her career, she is doing so against a former aide turned foe.

Threatening Picus is Laura Chick, 48, who served as the incumbent's field deputy from 1988 to 1991. In her current campaign to unseat her ex-boss, Chick says she left City Hall after becoming disillusioned by Picus' "unwillingness to take tough stands and strong actions."

Chick said it is time for change, a message designed to tap into the growing uneasiness of west San Fernando Valley voters in the 3rd Council District who fear that their suburban lifestyle is being jeopardized by urban woes.

In a contest with all the trappings of a grudge match, Picus has not hesitated to attack Chick in personal terms, depicting her as a treacherous former employee who has tried to steal her political secrets and friends to win advancement.

Picus, 62, has also sought to defuse the challenger's message of change, charging that Chick--whose husband has political links to Mayor Tom Bradley--is really just an ambitious City Hall insider.

Picus was forced into the June 8 runoff election when she failed to win more than 50% of the vote in the April 20 primary. In that race, Picus got 37% of the vote and Chick got 30%, with four other candidates splitting the remainder.

In a rare feat for a challenger, Chick was almost able to match Picus' spending dollar for dollar in the primary, as each spent about $200,000 on the first leg of the campaign.

Being thrust into a runoff is an unhappy first for Picus, who won her seat in 1977. During that time in office, Picus has carved out a reputation as one of City Hall's most devout proponents of Valley interests and as an outspoken feminist.

One of the major issues for Picus in the last four years has been her bitter fight to stop an office complex from being built on Warner Ridge, a prominent, 21.5-acre knoll in Woodland Hills.

The project, strongly opposed by neighbors, appeared to have been thwarted when the city, at Picus' urging, rezoned the building site for luxury homes. But the Warner Ridge developers successfully challenged the rezoning, arguing in a lawsuit that it was motivated in part by Picus' bid to curry favor with Woodland Hills voters.

The developers have since won approval to begin their project.

If Chick and her well-financed insurgency did not spell enough trouble for Picus, local political observers believe that mayoral candidate Richard Riordan has added to her woes with a campaign fueled by anti-City Hall feelings. In the primary, Riordan ran especially well in the 3rd District, which along with Woodland Hills includes West Hills, Canoga Park, Winnetka, Reseda and parts of Van Nuys.

This political reality has helped prod Picus into adopting the unusual tactic of tarring her foe with the brush of incumbency--a tactic normally wielded by the challenger.

"Laura, the idea that you're an agent for change is absurd," Picus said at a recent debate in West Hills. "You are a career political insider."

Picus bolsters that charge by noting that Chick's husband, Robert Chick, was one of Bradley's longest-serving appointees; his service included a 10-year stint on the city's Airport Commission,

The Chicks, Picus contends, are Bradley cronies who have jetted around the world on junkets financed by the Airport Commission.

Chick has responded angrily to such charges. "I get very emotional about that," she said recently. "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."

Chick also has said Picus' attacks on her spouse resemble what she termed the "sexist tactics" of the 1984 Republican campaign against Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, during which the business practices of Ferraro's husband were attacked.

Although the Chick campaign has been put on the defensive by Picus' attacks, political observers believe the challenger will be the logical beneficiary of growing concerns among voters that crime and other big-city ills are spreading to the West Valley.

This unease has been fueled by a recent rash of highly publicized crimes in the Valley, including the killing of a high school student on a local campus, the murder of a pregnant woman at an automated teller machine and the shooting death of an infant at a city park.

Picus "doesn't want us to see how bad things have gotten," Chick said at a recent debate.

The incumbent also may have suffered a blow when a local television news story on the race showed footage that appeared to show Picus sleeping at her desk during two separate council meetings. The footage, Chick quickly charged, shows that Picus really is "asleep at the switch."

Picus denied ever sleeping during council meetings. "I don't doze during debates," she said. "I'm attentive and listening so I can participate."

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