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DECISION '94. Spotlight on Local Elections : Candidates Pull No Punches in Last Days of Campaign : Politics: A relatively quiet election year has turned suddenly rancorous. Accusations include sign-stealing, unfair labeling--even taxing the dead.

November 06, 1994|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The gloves are off.

Candidates who seem to have been sleepwalking toward Election Day have unleashed an 11th-hour flurry of punches and counterpunches aimed at sending their opponents to the locker room.

The political pugilists usually deliver their blows--sometimes below the belt--by fax.

Contests in a variety of national, state and local offices that affect the Westside will be decided Tuesday. They include five state Assembly races, one state Senate contest and several congressional seats.

Last-minute campaigning even included childish election pranks such as ripping campaign signs off rented firetrucks.

And that's just in Santa Monica, which has three City Council seats up for grabs on Tuesday's ballot.

Generally speaking, much of the last-minute blitz has centered around alleged misstatements, exaggerations, distortions and plain old lies that are turning up in television spots and political mailers flooding Westside households.

Take the pitched battle in the 36th Congressional District, which includes Venice, Westchester, Playa del Rey and much of the South Bay.

First-term Rep. Jane Harman (D-Rolling Hills) is trying to hold on to her seat. Her Republican challenger, Rancho Palos Verdes Councilwoman Susan Brooks, is trying to take it away. Their disputes involve ads that discuss abortion rights, the gun lobby and whether President Clinton, with Harman's help, raised taxes on the dead.

The last charge was part of a Brooks ad trying to link Harman and Clinton to "the largest tax increase in America's history" because she voted for the President's deficit reduction plan last year. The plan raised taxes retroactively and therefore, according to the ad, on those who had already died.

Harman fired a shot at Brooks in a mailer that says: "Warning! Susan Brooks does not support the Freedom of Choice Act."

It goes on to claim that she "opposes all federal funding of abortions--even in the case of rape or incest."

Brooks' campaign said that although she does oppose federal funding of abortions, she does not oppose local or state funding.

Brooks' campaign was especially ruffled over another Harman ad highlighting Harman's support of the crime bill.

The ad says the National Rifle Assn. is working for Brooks and that she opposed the crime bill to "satisfy the NRA."

Brooks does have about 30 volunteers from the NRA, but she said that she opposed the bill because it included $7 billion in what she calls "social engineering spending."

Then there's the Leona Helmsley connection, or lack thereof.

A Brooks commercial features a laid-off aerospace worker who says, "Jane Harman, like her millionaire friend Leona Helmsley, thinks integrity and truth is only for us little people."

The problem, Harman's people report, is that she's never even met the Queen of Mean.

In Santa Monica, a beach city that loves a good political donnybrook, the City Council election had been unnaturally quiet this fall.

Then last weekend the firetrucks showed up at local supermarkets.

The Santa Monica firefighters' union has endorsed a slate of council candidates headed by incumbent Councilman Robert T. Holbrook.

But when loyalists from the opposition group, Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, saw the trucks, they went ballistic, incorrectly thinking that they belonged to the city and were being improperly used for politicking.

Heated words were exchanged and one angry resident started tearing campaign signs off the trucks, which were rented. Faxed letters followed, protesting that even rented trucks would mislead voters.

"We're kind of proud of ourselves; we've got them so upset," said fire union official Scott Ziegert.

SMRR-backed council candidate Bruria Finkel figured in an end-of-campaign contretemps over one of her own mailers.

In it, she says she is supported by U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

In an interview, Finkel said both senators agreed to support her at a political function last month.

Someone in the rival camp called The Times to say this isn't so. A phone call to Boxer's press secretary, Linda Marson, revealed that the senator is not officially supporting or endorsing Finkel.

The Feinstein camp, despite repeated phone calls over several days, either doesn't know or won't say whether she supports Finkel.

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