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Riordan Names Rep. Berman's Wife to Post : City Hall: Democrat Janis Berman will assess ideas for bettering L.A. Move seen as part of mayor's effort for diversity.

July 23, 1993|ALAN C. MILLER and JOHN SCHWADA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan has hired the wife of a prominent Democratic congressman to assess the hundreds of suggestions for bettering Los Angeles that are pouring in to City Hall.

Janis Berman, wife of Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City), has been appointed to a newly created post handling "public affairs or intergovernmental relations," William McCarley, Riordan's chief of staff, confirmed Thursday.

He called Berman, who lives in Sherman Oaks, "an interesting and energetic woman" who "offered her services to us."

Berman, 47, has been active in Democratic politics as well as in her husband's career for more than 15 years. She served as president of the board of directors of the California Museum of Science and Industry in the early 1980s and has worked with gangs and former gang members in a much-praised program in Rep. Berman's northeast San Fernando Valley district.

"I love Los Angeles and want to see it get back to being a leading innovator and on the cutting edge of the country," Janis Berman said Thursday while en route to California from Washington. "Mayor Riordan was very open to my ideas."

Berman's appointment--which is not subject to City Council confirmation--was widely seen by political observers as part of the new mayor's effort to include a cross-section of the city in his Administration. Valley and Republican figures who backed his campaign have been prominent among his early appointments, while Howard Berman is a prominent liberal and longtime leader in the Jewish community on the Westside as well as the Valley.

Others saw it as an example of Riordan paying back campaign-related debts. During the nominally nonpartisan race between Republican Riordan and Democrat Michael Woo, Howard Berman did not follow the example of his longtime liberal ally, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who backed Woo.

Instead, Berman remained publicly silent about the mayoral race, although some political observers say he privately helped the Riordan campaign with advice and introductions to the Jewish community. Berman said he communicated with both candidates.

Shortly after Riordan's election, Berman offered to lend his support at the congressional level to the mayor-elect's plan to use city airport profits to pay for more police--aid that Riordan may greatly need to get Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration to go along with the plan.

Rep. Berman said Thursday that his actions during or since the campaign had nothing to do with his wife's appointment.

"I do not make judgments about political endorsements on that basis," Berman said. "No one ever suggested (that Riordan would hire his wife), hinted at it or implied it. I think anyone who knows me knows I would never make a judgment on that basis."

Of his wife, he said: "She is an individual in her own right who has many talents and cares deeply about the city. This is not unique, unusual or inappropriate."

Although she is a Democrat, her political ideas are not far removed from those of Republican Riordan. She is California co-chairwoman of the Democratic Leadership Council, the organization established by moderate Democrats that provided many of the ideas behind Bill Clinton's presidential campaign.

"I'm not sure exactly when I became estranged from the California Democratic Party," Janis Berman wrote in a recent council newsletter. "The Democrats can no longer afford the view that business is always wrong, the police are always wrong or, in international affairs, America is always wrong."

She said she spoke to Riordan and his aides during the campaign "about my concerns, including promoting the entertainment industry, some strategy positions on San Fernando Valley issues and beefing up our congressional office in Washington to compete with New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas."

One or two other staff members will work with Berman, McCarley said. "She's not going to be the head of anything," he added. He refused to disclose her salary.

In other appointments, Riordan announced the selection of screenwriter Gary Ross to the city Library Commission. Ross credits include the films "Big" and "Dave," the latter a sendup of Washington politics.

Ross, a Studio City resident, is a longtime Democratic Party activist who campaigned for President Clinton and 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis.

Also Thursday, Riordan announced the selection of Jamesina E. Henderson, executive director of the new Business Revitalization Center, to the Building and Safety Commission. The center, which opened Thursday at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, is a cooperative venture between various government agencies, including the state and county of Los Angeles.

Meantime, Riordan was expected today to announce other appointments including members of the powerful Harbor Commission. Those mentioned as likely appointments to the commission include businessman Frank Sanchez; Wilmington community activist Gertrude Schwab; Lee Anderson, wife of former South Bay Democratic Rep. Glenn Anderson; Carol Rowen, a member of Riordan's transition committee, and Pacific Palisades businessman Steven Soboroff.

In other developments, the Riordan Administration submitted what is expected to be its last report on the private funding for its transition into office.

The report to the city controller's office showed that a variety of corporate interests provided the vast majority of the most recent contributions. A company competing to sell bonds for the Los Angeles Convention Center was among the donors. Grigsby Brandford & Co. donated $5,000.

Times staff writers James Rainey and Greg Krikorian contributed to this story.

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