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NEWS ANALYSIS : Riordan Victory Would Raise Valley's Voice : Politics: Residents have long said they have been ignored by City Hall. They see Republican businessman bringing new power and services to their area.

June 06, 1993|FRANK CLIFFORD and RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

You might call it Don Dornan's revenge. After having three cars stolen from his Sherman Oaks driveway and gang graffiti scratched into one, a vintage Cadillac El Dorado, Dornan wants to vote for someone who shares his anger about crime and the overall gone-to-hell nature of things in the city.

So Dornan, like many of his neighbors in the San Fernando Valley, is voting for Richard Riordan for mayor. And he is hoping that a Riordan victory will bring a new appreciation for a part of town that has long considered itself the orphan of municipal politics in Los Angeles.

It's not so much that Dornan, who is no stranger to politics (his brother is Orange County Republican congressman Robert K. Dornan), believes that Riordan's election will signal a renaissance in the Valley. He worries about Riordan's ties to the downtown corporate interests that Don Dornan believes have gotten more than their fair share of City Hall's attention. But Dornan has listened to Riordan's rhetoric about crime, blight and schools that do not educate, and he believes he detects a kindred spirit.

"It is my hope that this man has a certain form of moral leadership that may deter some people who are bordering on committing crimes. I believe he will make an effort to bring some sense of citizenship and morality back to L.A."

A Republican businessman who promises to hold down taxes and strip away regulatory red tape, Riordan has a lot in common with many Valley voters.

Riordan received 42% of the Valley vote in the primary, far more support than any of the other 23 candidates. Heading into Tuesday's runoff election, a Times poll shows him leading City Councilman Michael Woo by a margin of 62% to 27% among Valley voters likely to cast ballots.

If Riordan wins, the Valley's star is almost sure to rise at City Hall. His Valley supporters hope that a Riordan victory would translate into more police and municipal services for their part of town. But it could also amplify the Valley's voice on citywide issues. Valley conservatism, long dismissed as a sort of provincial aberration, would suddenly be more palpable south of Mulholland Drive.

While the Valley is looking more and more like the rest of the city, its politics haven't changed that much from the days when the Proposition 13 tax revolt flourished or the city's anti-busing movement took shape.

Although the population of the Valley has changed dramatically with Latinos making up 32% of the populace--double what they were 10 years ago--the electorate has not changed that much. Eighty-five percent of the people who cast ballots in the Valley in the April primary were Anglo and only 7% were Latino. Three percent were black and an equal proportion were Asian-American.

"From an electoral point of view, it is white and conservative. Make no mistake about it," said City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents a portion of the Valley. "Even the Democrats are more conservative than Democrats in other parts of the city."

The attention that both mayoral candidates have been paying Valley voters is an acknowledgment of their importance.

The Valley accounts for more than one-third of the city's 3.5 million residents but represented 43% of the total votes cast in the April primary, according to a Times analysis.

For the last 20 years, Mayor Tom Bradley was able to win on the strength of a black-white coalition anchored in South-Central Los Angeles and the Westside. But the remnants of that coalition, which Woo appears to be inheriting, are no longer strong enough to guarantee his election.

As a result, Woo as well as Riordan are reaching out to Valley voters--a clear sign that the region has come of age politically and stands to benefit from this election regardless of who wins.

They are "high-propensity voters for the most part," he said, agreeing with Yaroslavsky that Valley voters--long alienated from City Hall--are in a position to force the candidates to take them seriously.

"I don't think the Valley has a lot to lose in this election," said Yaroslavsky, who has not endorsed either candidate.

"If Riordan wins, that is his base, and he's going to have to maintain his base and be attentive to Valley interests," Yaroslavsky said. "If Woo wins, the first thing on his mind is going to be trying to broaden his base."

An obvious way for Woo to do that in the Valley, if he is elected, is "to demonstrate that he is a centrist and that he cares about crime," Yaroslavsky said.

The Valley has feuded with City Hall for most of this century, making the first of several secession threats during the 1920s, according to Steven Erie, a political scientist at UC San Diego who writes frequently about Los Angeles politics.

The complaint then was much the same as it is today: that the Valley pays a disproportionate amount of taxes and does not get back a fair share of city services.

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