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ELECTIONS / TV COMMERCIALS : Thousand Oaks City Council Hopefuls Have Discovered Cable

November 04, 1994|STEPHANIE SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One candidate proudly compares his television commercials to the brutal attack ads aired by Senate hopefuls Dianne Feinstein and Michael Huffington. Another boasts of a warm and fuzzy approach, starring adorable kids. A third describes a tough-guy tactic focusing on crime.

Thousand Oaks City Council candidates have splattered the airwaves with commercials in this frenzied election season, spending a total of $32,000 to pitch their views on cable TV.

For the first time in city history, shows from "Larry King Live" to NFL action are studded with local politics.

Half of Thousand Oaks' 16 council candidates have hit the airwaves. The two contenders for the local supervisorial seat have also launched television blitzes. And even a candidate in the low-key race for seats on the Conejo Recreation and Park District board has purchased air time.

The medium has become so popular that Ventura County Cablevision's Tom Straszewski has sold hundreds of slots in the past few weeks.

His sales pitch is simple: VCC reaches about 35,000 households in Thousand Oaks. And candidates can buy 30-second spots on popular channels like CNN for just $13.

Gunning for exposure, eight of the best-financed council candidates have paid for their ads to air dozens of times each day, on shows such as "Murder, She Wrote," "Headline News" and "Tuesday Night Boxing."

"It's physically impossible to walk all 50 square miles (of Thousand Oaks)," candidate Michael Markey said, explaining why he spent $4,000 on ads. "With television, I'm trying to get into the homes I can't walk to."

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Councilwoman Jaime Zukowski kicked off the cable craze two years ago, when she became the first Thousand Oaks candidate to air TV commercials. The ads, emphasizing her environmental stance, were widely credited with boosting Zukowski into office.

This year, several well-financed candidates are trying to duplicate Zukowski's success: dentist Greg Cole, retired businessman Marshall Dixon, firefighter Andy Fox, financial services manager Michael Friedman, city Operations Manager David Hare, retired film professor M. Ali Issari, police detective Markey and incumbent Elois Zeanah.

Both Cole and Fox have produced ads emphasizing their commitment to public safety.

Cole, who has spent $5,800 on television, showcases an endorsement from former Los Angeles Police Chief Ed Davis. Fox's commercial flips through alarming newspaper headlines about rising crime in the Conejo Valley and announces, "Your safety comes first."

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Another Fox ad, describing his record of defending public open space on the city's Planning Commission, inadvertently features the mug of a rival. Planning Commissioner Irv Wasserman is shown at the dais along with Fox.

The brief, wide-angle shot is all the cable advertising Wasserman will get, however. With just over $3,000 in contributions, he is focusing on flyers, signs and newspaper ads.

Friedman, boosted by major contributions from auto dealers and North Ranch millionaire Charles E. Probst, has poured the most money into cable commercials--about $6,500.

While one ad simply introduces the 27-year-old father of three, others blast incumbent Zeanah as anti-business and anti-growth. "They're not that dirty," Friedman said. "They're factual."

To counter such attacks, Zeanah and her supporters have injected a humorous twist into the television campaign.

The slow-growth slate of Zeanah, Issari and Hare has spent $8,000 on television commercials, and several of them show a lighthearted touch.

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At the end of Hare's talking-head ad, a computer animation shows hands pulling a bunny--or, perhaps, a hare--out of a hat. Zeanah's commercial concludes with a magic wand touching off an animated display of fireworks.

And one ad for Issari likens Thousand Oaks to a gun-slinging Wild West frontier town. Shot in brown sepia tones, the commercial shows a gang of rabble-rousing residents--presumably Issari backers--kicking a grumpy trio out of power.

"The candidates," Straszewski said after viewing the ad, "are getting more creative." Among the race's top fund-raisers, only incumbent Judy Lazar has stayed away from television. Decrying the expense and big-city feel of cable commercials, Lazar has decided to focus on newspaper advertising and direct mail.

Plus, she said with a laugh, "I figure people can see my face on television every Tuesday night" during council meetings broadcast on the government station.

The other candidates not airing ads are former councilman Lee Laxdal, real estate salesman Chuck Morsa, self-employed salesman Ekbal Quidwai, public-access television producer Jeannette Scovill, mortgage broker Bill Williams and mobile carwash owner Lance Winslow.

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