Los Angeles voters today will usher in a new era in city government as they choose a successor to long-serving Mayor Tom Bradley and decide whether to elect the City Council's first openly homosexual member.
In another potentially historic contest, voters in the San Fernando Valley could choose that area's first Latino City Council member, a result that would demonstrate the ethnic group's growing clout in city politics.
Overall, Los Angeles voters could elect as many as four new lawmakers--continuing a trend toward change in the once unchanging Los Angeles City Council. Voters brought in three new council members in 1991, but before that it had been more than a quarter-century since voters had elected so many new representatives in a single year.
Voters also could make broad changes in the rules governing the massive city bureaucracy, through a measure that would make it easier to dismiss department heads.
The election in Los Angeles highlights a wide range of issues and offices that will confront voters throughout Los Angeles County--from the selection of two members of the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees to the decision, in West Hollywood and Pico Rivera, of whether to allow card clubs.
But with the state's largest city about to elect a successor to Bradley, whose 20-year tenure is the longest in Los Angeles history, most of the campaign focus has been on the mayoral race.
An election that began with an unwieldy primary field of 24 candidates was narrowed in April to businessman Richard Riordan and City Councilman Michael Woo. Riordan defined himself as a crusading non-politician offering to bring his financial acumen to an ailing city, while Woo said he had dedicated his lifelong political service to the reform of government.
But polls show both men increasingly defined by the other's negative campaigns--with Riordan made out to be a callous and greedy leveraged buyout artist and Woo depicted as a weak and ineffectual devotee of the City Hall status quo.
Woo struggled mightily to maintain the alliance of Westside liberals and South-Central blacks that kept Bradley in office for five terms. This relied in large part on the financial backing of Asian-Americans from around the country who hope to make him the first big-city mayor of Asian descent.
Riordan, meanwhile, found his most receptive audience among conservatives and San Fernando Valley residents--voters he has reached by pouring his personal fortune into television ads and glossy mailers.
While receiving far less attention than the mayor's contest, the four City Council races could dramatically alter the political landscape at City Hall.
In the 13th District, former school board member Jackie Goldberg could become the council's first openly homosexual member. She is running against Tom LaBonge, longtime aide to Council President John Ferraro.
While Goldberg has discussed the need for ethnic cooperation and social programs for the district's needier residents, LaBonge has emphasized services for the middle class--filling potholes and cleaning alleys.
The campaigns in the ethnically diverse district, which runs from Hollywood to Glassell Park, grew increasingly bitter in the final days. Goldberg has painted LaBonge as a tired bureaucrat. LaBonge, meanwhile, has accused Goldberg of waging a deceitful campaign.
In the 7th District, meantime, mayoral aide Richard Alarcon is bidding to become the San Fernando Valley's first Latino on the City Council. His opponent is former fire Capt. Lyle Hall, who for years was president of the city's firefighters union.
In this relatively tame confrontation to represent the northeast Valley, Hall has stressed his 31 years as a fireman and bipartisan support from Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Alarcon, meanwhile, has painted himself as the district's native son, with years spent growing up there and teaching school before working as Bradley's chief deputy in the Valley.
Easily the most personal contest has been in the west San Fernando Valley's 3rd District, where Councilwoman Joy Picus and her former field deputy, Laura Chick, have exchanged biting personal denunciations in several debates.
Picus has accused her onetime employee of betraying her trust and has sought to link her to Bradley--an unpopular figure in the Valley who appointed Chick's husband to the Airport Commission.
Chick has said she saw firsthand that Picus is an uninspired official--a charge her campaign tried to drive home in a mailer that purportedly showed Picus sleeping during City Council meetings.
In the 15th District, stretching from Watts to San Pedro, incumbent Joan Milke Flores was pushed into a runoff against paint store owner and political neophyte Rudy Svorinich.