Less than three weeks before the April 11 primary, the race for the 5th District City Council seat has entered a more active phase that is in stark contrast to the quiet, civil, almost dull pace the campaign has maintained for the past few months.
In the past week or two, voters in the district that stretches from Sherman Oaks to West Los Angeles have found their mailboxes stuffed with slick, multicolored brochures emblazoned with high-minded proposals to increase public safety and reduce government waste.
But at the same time, the candidates have begun the time-honored practice of digging up dirt on their opponents and flinging the mud.
For example, candidate Mike Feuer, the former director of a free legal service agency, accused fellow hopeful Roberta Weintraub, a former school board member, of illegally spending from a defunct spending account.
Weintraub has $16,100 in an account that she opened last year when she was considering a run at the state Assembly. Unless she decides to run for the post again, state law says she must either give the money to charitable groups or return it to her contributors.
Feuer said Weintraub may have violated that law when she spent $100 from the account to attend a luncheon with the California Abortion Rights Action League and $154 to attend the Fernando Awards, which recognizes outstanding community service in the San Fernando Valley. He said the groups are not registered as nonprofit and therefore the money was spent illegally. He further questioned why Weintraub spent from the Assembly campaign account and not her City Council account.
Susan Burnside, a Weintraub campaign aide, rejected Feuer's charges, saying that both groups are nonprofit.
"The real point is these are all legal," she said.
Still, Burnside said, Weintraub has reimbursed the account with her own money to eliminate any appearance of impropriety.
Feuer was fending off an attack by candidate Jeff Brain, a Sherman Oaks businessman, who had accused Feuer of promoting an unrealistic public safety plan.
Feuer has campaigned heavily on a plan to establish police substations throughout the district and staff them with police reserve officers, who are trained at the police academy but receive only a $15 monthly stipend to work a minimum of 16 hours a month. The office space for the substations could be donated by private businesses, Feuer has said.
But Brain said the idea is unrealistic because the city has only 273 reserve officers who are trained for police work. He said this number is too small to meet Feuer's goals.
"This sounds great on the surface, but when you look closer it's unrealistic," Brain said.
Feuer said he hopes to increase the number of reserve officers by seeking more volunteers.
"I have no doubt that if we were to emphasize the reservist we would have plenty manning the substations," he said.
In the meantime, Weintraub has criticized Barbara Yaroslavsky, a volunteer activist and wife of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a former City Council member, for accepting thousands of dollars from a law firm that does extensive business with City Hall.
The firm in question, Christensen, White, Miller, Fink & Jacobs, has done extensive work with the city and is vying for more contracts from it. In total, Yaroslavsky has accepted $8,400 from 24 law firm employees.
Yaroslavsky's campaign manager, Laurie Saffian, has defended the contributions and said one of the firm's partners is a longtime friend of Yaroslavsky.
For her part, Yaroslavsky has steered clear of criticizing her opponents and appears to be concentrating on bolstering her $307,000 campaign war chest and distributing fliers and mailers to potential voters.
"She is just concentrating on the issues," Saffian said.
Like most of the other campaign literature, Yaroslavsky's pink and black brochure emphasizes plans to increase the number of officers on the force and pay for them by cutting waste in city spending.
Feuer's literature also presses for improved law enforcement. A mailer he sent out this week is emblazoned with the headline: "We keep waiting for more police protection . . . But it's the same old story in City Hall: Blame, Delay & Excuses."
Weintraub also proposed improved public safety in her six-page brochures. On the whole, however, she is trying to emphasize her experience as a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District board for 14 years.
Brain said his mailer will go out on Monday and will emphasize his work in developing a bus shuttle, a street fair and a town council in Sherman Oaks, among other things. He said it will also emphasize his plans to boost the number of officers on the force and cut government waste.