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Decision '94 / Local Offices : New Age Democrats Make 41st Their Turf : Assembly: Field includes environmental, gay, civil libertarian and anti-smoking candidates. But the Valley is where the votes are.

May 29, 1994|JOHN SCHWADA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At times, the cast of would-be legislators in the upscale West Side-San Fernando Valley 41st Assembly District sounds as if it has been lifted from a Woody Allen movie about New Age California politics.

There are the lesbian former television actress, the environmental activist-lawyer who defends nude dancers, the Malibu civil libertarian who urges legalizing prostitution while acting as one of the state's leading male advocates for abortion rights and the anti-smoking activist.

Touching off this polychromatic dash of Democratic Party candidates for the state Legislature was the surprise decision last February by Assemblyman Terry Friedman (D-Brentwood) to step down and run for a Superior Court judgeship.

The district includes the West Side communities of Santa Monica, Brentwood, the Pacific Palisades and Malibu, the San Fernando Valley communities of Woodland Hills, Tarzana and Encino and the Conejo Valley communities of Hidden Hills, Calabasas, Agoura Hills and Westlake Village.

With 50.4% of the 41st District electorate registered as Democrats and 36.3% as Republicans, conventional wisdom says the triumphant Democratic primary candidate wins the seat in November.

Although the front-runners in the six-person Democratic primary are strongly rooted in West Side politics, sheer numbers have forced them to pay keen attention to the San Fernando Valley part of the district. Records show that 52% of the Democrats eligible to vote in the primary live north of Mulholland Drive.

Of the West Side-based candidates, three--Bill Rothbard, Edward Tabash and Sheila James Kuehl--have even set up campaign headquarters on Ventura Boulevard to prove their courtship of the Valley is earnest.

Rothbard is vice chairman of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and ex-president of the Berkeley-based nonprofit Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. He once led schoolchildren in protesting a traveling exhibit of the nation's original Bill of Rights documents because it was sponsored by Phillip Morris, the tobacco giant.

The 43-year-old anti-trust attorney's campaign has picked up the endorsements of a number of Valley-based homeowner leaders, including Rob Glushon of the Encino Property Owners Assn. and Bob Gross of the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization.

"True, I live on the West Side but through my work on the conservancy, I've dealt extensively with Valley environmental issues," Rothbard said. "I've also done all my own precinct walking in the Valley."

Rothbard also supports the breakup of the Los Angeles Unified School District, a viewpoint with a strong Valley constituency.

Nor is he a school reform parvenu, Rothbard says, pointing to his work as legal counsel to a parent group that advocates converting public schools in the Pacific Palisades--where his own two teen-age children are being educated--to independent charter schools.

In 1992, Rothbard unsuccessfully sought appointment as Santa Monica city attorney, calling himself a champion of the underdog, and in the 1980s he was involved--as an aide to U.S. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio)--in the effort to block President Ronald Reagan's nomination of conservative Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rothbard has raised more than $175,000 for his campaign, and is receiving the private support of outgoing lawmaker Friedman, a close friend. As a candidate for a judgeship, Friedman is barred from being overtly engaged in Rothbard's campaign.

Also armed with a large campaign war chest is Sheila James Kuehl, a Loyola Law School professor and a leader of the nonprofit California Women's Law Center. Her latest campaign report showed that she had raised nearly $250,000.

A onetime actress, Kuehl played Zelda, the lovelorn pursuer of Dobie in the 1960s sitcom "Dobie Gillis." Last week, she raised about $8,000 at a campaign fund-raiser featuring a reunion of the series' stars.

At a Democratic Party meeting in San Pedro in March, Kuehl said she hoped to become the first openly lesbian member of the state Legislature.

Kuehl has backed strong tenant-rights measures in her hometown of Santa Monica. Also, in 1993, as a member of a local service center for the homeless, Kuehl urged a moratorium on enforcement of a controversial Santa Monica ordinance prohibiting sleeping in the city's parks.

"If you're a Santa Monica renter and a Jewish woman, your mailbox is going to be stuffed with our mailers before the campaign is over," said Barbara Grover, Kuehl's political consultant, commenting on the candidate's constituent base.

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State Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina have endorsed Kuehl, who says her domestic violence work at the California Women's Law Center equips her to deal with a top concern of voters: street violence.

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