By a wide margin, state Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys) proved victorious Tuesday over a recall drive that was closely watched nationally as a referendum on gun control.
Roberti, the first state politician in 80 years to face a recall, said the outcome proved that politicians can support gun control and survive politically. He claimed that the attempt to oust him was the work of the gun lobby seeking revenge because of his support for a 1989 law banning military-style semiautomatic rifles, known as assault weapons.
All five of the candidates seeking to replace Roberti if the recall had succeeded avidly championed the 2nd Amendment, the section of the U.S. Constitution that guarantees citizens the right to bear arms, and gun control foes pumped thousands of dollars into the race.
"The gun lobby hasn't crippled me, it's energized me," said Roberti, who declared victory at 10:37 p.m. at an election party at a Sun Valley restaurant as 150 supporters cheered.
Roberti pledged to fight for additional gun legislation and urged other politicians to do likewise. "I'm all in one piece," he said. "They weren't able to get a piece of me."
Clinton Reilly, Roberti's political consultant, predicted that the victory will give "enormous momentum" to the senator's campaign for state treasurer against former Democratic Party Chairman Phil Angelides. Amid the campaign paraphernalia were signs and badges announcing "Treasurer Roberti--The Man Who Banned Assault Weapons."
Among his opponents were Randy Linkmeyer, a Canoga Park gun store owner, and Al Dib, a retired grocer who advocated the repeal of statutes that outlaw machine guns and make it illegal to carry concealed weapons.
Led by the Coalition to Restore Government Integrity, proponents of the recall acknowledged that they owed a huge debt of gratitude to gun owners. But they also insisted that their movement was not a captive of gun interests and that their gripe with Roberti stemmed from a critique of the senator's 27 years in office.
Roberti's opponents said they were hurt by his vast campaign resources. Roberti had more than $750,000 to spend on the election, about nine times as much as his opponents. "If we'd had a level playing field and we had had the assets Roberti had, I think we would have won and we would have won with a landslide," said Bill Dominguez, a Van Nuys systems analyst and a leader of the recall movement, at an election party at the Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys.
During the campaign, throughout which recall supporters insisted that the election was not about guns but about good government, 15 guns were stolen from Dominguez's home. The incident amounted to a public relations coup for Roberti.
The recall measure qualified for the ballot after more than 20,000 registered voters from Roberti's district signed petitions accusing Roberti of malfeasance in office and demanding that a recall election be held. Roberti, required to give up his Senate seat because of term limits, had planned to retire from politics. But, declaring that he would not be forced out by a recall, he decided to run for state treasurer.
With local government reeling from the impact of the recession and the Jan. 17 earthquake, Roberti charged that the extra cost of the election, estimated at $800,000, was exorbitant, especially because term limits were going to force him to leave office in December anyway.
A primary election to pick Roberti's Senate successor will be held June 7. All the candidates who ran in Tuesday's recall election to unseat Roberti are running in the primary; there are other candidates as well.
In its final hours, the Roberti recall campaign turned into a battle between the National Rifle Assn. and Handgun Control Inc., the leading adversaries in nation's ongoing gun control debate.
The NRA pumped nearly $50,000 into the race to pay for a five-day phone bank operation, while Handgun Control poured its money into the race to pay for last-minute radio advertising. But perhaps more important, the group gave Roberti the support of its leader, Sarah Brady, a celebrated gun control advocate.
A Times poll taken in late March found that two-thirds of the voters in Roberti's district supported stronger gun control laws.
When Roberti showed up to vote at 1 p.m. in Van Nuys, he was confronted by Tanya Metaksa, executive director of the NRA's Washington, D.C.-based legislative arm.
Metaksa intended to berate Roberti as a soft-on-crime liberal. Instead, she found the senator prepared to counter her with a public relations gambit of his own. Accompanying the senator was Michelle Scully, who was wounded less than a year ago when Gian Luigi Ferri opened fire on office workers in a San Francisco high-rise with a .45-caliber semiautomatic gun that was one of the types of assault weapons banned by Roberti's 1989 legislation. Scully's husband, John, was killed in the attack.