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ELECTIONS / L.A. CITY COUNCIL : Yaroslavsky, Feuer Claim Overlapping Constituency

August 20, 1994|JOHN SCHWADA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Barbara Yaroslavsky's decision to run for the Los Angeles City Council has already sparked soul-searching in liberal Jewish political circles on the Westside as activists decide between her candidacy and that of Michael Feuer, head of a highly regarded legal-services program for the disadvantaged.

Some political observers have even speculated that it will soon be evident either to Yaroslavsky, 47--who is hoping to succeed her husband, Zev--or to Feuer that their constituency is not big enough to support both and that one of them will have to bow out.

Although some would bet that Barbara Yaroslavsky, wife of a popular, 19-year veteran of Westside politics, is more likely to survive in this hothouse political environment, others are not sure Feuer will bend.

"I think he's in the race to stay, but there's no question that she has done him damage," said consultant Steve Afriat. "If I were him, I'd try to branch out and appeal to Valley voters."

Feuer acknowledged that the road ahead has been made tougher by Yaroslavsky's decision. "But I like to take on challenges," he said. "I'm in this race to stay."

"People have remained very supportive," Feuer added Friday, a day after Yaroslavsky confirmed her entry into the campaign for the 5th District seat. "I was at a charity event last night (for a Westside poverty-law firm) and people were encouraging me to stick it out. The message to me is that if the electorate will focus on the merits of the candidates, I can win. My challenge is to get the voters to stay focused that way."

Meanwhile, Yaroslavsky said she has been heartened by the "phenomenally positive response" to the news that she had decided to run. Nor does it worry her, she said, that Feuer's Westside support has not faltered.

"That's good," Yaroslavsky said. "They should stick to their commitments. But there's enough people to go around for all of us."

It is believed that former Los Angeles Board of Education member Roberta Weintraub, who is already in the race, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Leah Purwin D'Agostino, who is all but in the race, are likely to find their heaviest support among moderates. Others with their hats in the ring include Jeff Brain, a San Fernando Valley realtor; Bill Christopher, a Westside community activist, and Ryan Snyder, a transportation activist.

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Since 1986, the 36-year-old Feuer has been executive director of Bet-Tzedek Legal Services, a platform that also helped spawn the political career of state Assemblyman Terry Friedman (D-Brentwood).

During Feuer's tenure, one of Bet-Tzedek's most serious challenges has been to survive financially as the government grants it once relied on have shrunk.

Adapting to leaner times, the agency has launched annual--and increasingly successful--campaigns to raise private donations. Now more than one-third of Bet-Tzedek's $2.9-million budget comes from private donations.

Although the agency's board members are essential to Bet-Tzedek's financial strength, Feuer has been a key player in major decisions, including the selection of board members with more corporate experience.

Bet-Tzedek provides legal services to poor, disabled and elderly clients. It also has made a name for itself providing legal aid to Holocaust survivors, victims of the Jan. 17 earthquake and small-business owners hurt by the 1992 riots.

Feuer has used his access to political activists and contributors as the launching pad for his quest for public office. Virtually the entire Bet-Tzedek board of directors--about 35 strong--have endorsed him.

In statements filed with the Los Angeles Ethics Commission in July, Feuer reported raising more than $60,000 for his campaign, making him the race's early financial leader. Critics, however, point out that half of Feuer's reported war chest consists of pledges.

"I'd like to see how much of those pledges are paid now that Barbara is in the race," said one Yaroslavsky partisan, who requested anonymity.

Yet even as it became increasingly evident that Barbara Yaroslavsky would run, Feuer has shown staying power.

Last weekend, for example, a letter went out to hundreds of Westside Jewish leaders--many of them lifted from Zev Yaroslavsky's lists of supporters--urging them to back Feuer as the "tireless crusader" for the disadvantaged clients of Bet-Tzedek and a man of "impeccable integrity."

It was signed by several well-known Jewish liberals, including Bruce Corwin, president of Metropolitan Theatres, attorneys Lisa Specht and Ed Sanders, and community activist Marcia Volpert.

That these people would step up to the plate in the face of Barbara Yaroslavsky's impending move was a good sign for Feuer, according to some observers. Their presence in Feuer's camp also points to some of the rift lines in the Jewish community.

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Corwin, for example, is president of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, where Barbara Yaroslavsky is a member of the board of directors.

"Barbara is a very good friend of mine," said Corwin, a veteran of Democratic politics. "But Michael is an extraordinary person."

"Barbara's entry won't affect me," said Volpert, recently the chairwoman of the Jewish Federation Council's high-profile Community Relations Committee and current member of Mayor Richard Riordan's Water and Power Commission.

"But it will make it a more difficult campaign for Michael," said Volpert, a Sherman Oaks resident. "If you take the knee-jerk view that both are leaders in the Jewish community, then maybe it looks like the choice (is difficult). But there is a difference. Michael has a record of running a major organization."

Others, like Marcia Herman of Brentwood, co-founder of the Women's Political Committee, feel a tug at their convictions in the emerging 5th District race. "I've known Barbara for years as a friend," said Herman, who is a member of Bet-Tzedek's board. But friendship aside, Herman is backing Feuer.

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