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COVER STORY : Seating Now Available : It Used to Be That the Only Route to a Westside Assembly Job Went Through the Berman-Waxman Machine. Not Anymore.

May 08, 1994|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The odds of going to Sacramento as a Westside legislator used to be about as good as, say, the chance of snookering Michael Ovitz in a movie deal.

Maybe not that good.

That's because for more than two decades, the Westside has been essentially a closed shop, open only to those Democrats who belonged to the political organization headed by Reps. Howard Berman (D-Panorama City) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

And once ensconced in Sacramento, the legislators handpicked by the Berman-Waxman apparatus tended to stay on forever--or at least until a demographically friendly congressional seat opened up.

Then, in 1992, the voters spoke two words: term limits.

Largely as a result, three Assembly Democrats who together represent the vast majority of the Westside have decided to give up their seats and run for other offices--Terry B. Friedman of the 41st District, Burt Margolin of the 42nd and Gwen Moore of the 47th.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 12, 1994 Home Edition Westside Part J Page 3 Zones Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Assembly race--Jimmie Woods Gray is a Democratic candidate in the 47th Assembly District. The information was incorrect in the Westside cover story Sunday.

Facing ejection from the Assembly in two years under the term-limit law, Friedman, a Brentwood resident, is running for a judgeship, while Margolin and Moore--both of Los Angeles--are competing, respectively, for state insurance commissioner and secretary of state.

Suddenly, the political heavens have opened over the Westside, raining down 22 Democratic and five Republican candidates for the soon-to-be-vacant seats.

The candidates, many of them political newcomers, have been scooting everywhere--raising money, securing endorsements, seeking media attention and, above all, trying to separate themselves from the pack.

The clock is ticking. With Democrats enjoying a large voter-registration advantage in two of the three open Assembly races and a slight edge in the third, the future representation of the districts could well be decided in the June 7 primary.

Making the competition all the more intense is the mostly hands-off approach taken so far by the Berman-Waxman group, which appears to be reorganizing after seeing several of its candidates go down to defeat in elections two years ago.

Democratic Assembly candidates are quite open about their efforts to turn to the political organization that has delivered in the past. Many have tried, and continue to try, to get endorsements from the Berman-Waxman folks--or at least a spot on the group's slate mailer. So far, only one candidate--Ed Johnson in the 47th District--has made the cut.

The silence of the Berman-Waxman forces has left political operatives in the races perplexed--and edgy.

"(The Westside) is the heart of the Berman-Waxman machine," said political consultant Rick Taylor, who is working for a candidate in each of the three races. "Where are they?"

There are two other state legislative races on the Westside this year. Veteran state Sen. Ralph Dills (D-Gardena) is running for reelection in a redrawn 28th District that stretches from Venice to Wilmington. Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey) is seeking a second term as representative of the largely coastal 53rd District.

But most of the Westside's primary campaign action has been concentrated in the three wide-open Assembly districts. The following is a preview of those races:

*

41st ASSEMBLY DISTRICT: Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Malibu, western San Fernando Valley, Agoura Hills, Westlake.

In this coastal swing district, the low profile of the Berman-Waxman group is most apparent in the fortunes of candidate Bill Rothbard, a close friend of Friedman.

When Friedman, first elected to the Assembly in 1986, surprised one and all by deciding to give up his seat, he told supporters privately that Rothbard was his heir apparent. But in doing so, Friedman broke the rules of the Berman-Waxman clan by not getting their approval for his kingmaking.

The group had expected Friedman to run for reelection, figuring he could get a judicial appointment--even from a Republican governor--after his Assembly tenure.

Friedman's faux pas, campaign watchers say, has kept the Berman--Waxman group from endorsing Rothbard. Complicating matters for Rothbard, Friedman has not felt free to campaign openly for him because, even though he has yet to win his judgeship, judicial canons of ethics allow judges to endorse only in judicial races.

This, however, hasn't stopped Rothbard from letting it be known that he has Friedman's support.

Rothbard, a Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy director who last year tried unsuccessfully to win appointment as Santa Monica city attorney, also has gained law enforcement and labor support. His opponents grumble that this would not have been possible without Friedman's help.

Friedman could not be reached for comment.

Rothbard, a resident of Pacific Palisades, has set up a campaign office in the strategically important Valley, home to 52% of the district's Democratic vote.

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