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ELECTIONS / L.A. CITY COUNCIL 5TH DISTRICT : Police Union Backs Opponent of Yaroslavsky's Wife in Race


Police union leaders endorsed one Los Angeles City Council candidate and blasted another Wednesday, backing Deputy Dist. Atty. Lea Purwin D'Agostino while claiming that Barbara Yaroslavsky, if elected, would be a puppet of her husband, outgoing Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.

"The strings will still be pulled by him (Yaroslavsky)," said Danny Staggs, president of the Police Protective League, who characterized the councilman as antagonistic toward the police force.

Staggs, who cited the councilman's vote last summer against settling a bitter wage dispute with police, made his remarks at a news conference at Parker Center even as he announced that the league had endorsed D'Agostino.

D'Agostino, 57, often described as the tenacious Dragon Lady of the courts, caught the public's eye in 1987 when she prosecuted producer John Landis on involuntary manslaughter charges stemming from the deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two children during filming of "Twilight Zone--The Movie."

After losing the case, she was transferred out of the central courts by her boss, Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner. In 1988, she ran against Reiner and lost.

D'Agostino will be a strong friend of the police, said Staggs, who vowed to send union members onto the streets to work for her candidacy.

"Fortunately, Danny Staggs will not have any impact on the 5th District race," an angry Zev Yaroslavsky later replied. The league not only fails to represent rank-and-file cops but is also out of touch with 5th District voters, Yaroslavsky charged, noting that voters there supported the so-called Christopher Commission reforms.

Meanwhile, Barbara Yaroslavsky said that despite their differences, she hoped to work with the police union, if she is elected, to sharply beef up the LAPD, called the most understaffed big city police department in the nation.

But she dismissed Staggs' views that she would be controlled by her husband. "Anyone who says that hasn't awakened and smelled the roses of this generation," she said. "Zev himself has been driving car-pool for several days now for the kids going to school." The couple have two children.

In December, Zev Yaroslavsky is leaving his Westside-Sherman Oaks-based council seat after 19 years to take on new duties as a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. His wife, after considerable agonizing, threw her hat into the ring in August.

Meanwhile, D'Agostino, whose candidacy was nearly lost in the exchange of barbs between Zev Yaroslavsky and the league, distanced herself somewhat from Staggs' prediction that Yaroslavsky's wife would be his puppet at City Hall.

Rather, D'Agostino, a Westwood resident, said she was concerned that having a husband in one branch of government and the wife in another would risk potential conflicts of interest. The two jurisdictions have been known to sue each other and squabble over public policies, she said.

Also running for the 5th District seat are former Los Angeles school board member Roberta Weintraub and attorney Michael Feuer, head of Bet Tzedek, a nonprofit legal services agency.


Staggs began slamming Zev Yaroslavsky at the outset of his remarks Wednesday. "After years of neglect by the outgoing councilman of the 5th District, it (the district) has become one of our toughest beats" to patrol, Staggs said.

The union president went on to predict that D'Agostino, a veteran member of the criminal justice system who now works out of the Van Nuys Courthouse, would be a strong friend of law enforcement. For her part, D'Agostino quickly agreed that she would support a bigger police department, with better paid employees who have access to the latest equipment and technology.

"We can't afford business as usual," D'Agostino said as she suggested freeing police to routinely frisk people for weapons. "If we can stop cars (at road checks) for drunk drivers, we can stop for weapons," she said.

It was later, during questioning by reporters, that Staggs claimed that Barbara Yaroslavsky would not only be unqualified to serve but that, if elected, she would virtually be her husband's puppet. Such a situation, Staggs suggested, would hurt the city's police services.

"Zev has not been extremely supportive of the officers, including our last request for a pay raise," Staggs said. "He's been very critical."

Staggs also claimed that he had a "heated discussion" with the Yaroslavskys on Tuesday night at an event at the Century Plaza Hotel over the league's published views that Barbara Yaroslavsky was not qualified.

"He said I'd insulted his wife," Staggs related. "I said it was not an insult; it was a fact."

"You don't become a council person by osmosis," Staggs said.

Zev Yaroslavsky later said he did not recall the conversation that way. "I don't honestly know what he's talking about--he should have his blood tested to see what he was drinking," he said.

Told of Staggs' allegation that he would control his wife if she were elected, Yaroslavsky said: "I would expect nothing less from Danny Staggs than this kind of typically sexist remark."

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