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A New Deal for the Roosevelt Heritage : Politics: Hall Delano Roosevelt, grandson of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, announces his candidacy for Long Beach City Council.

November 27, 1995|JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Grandpa navigated the nation through a 10-year economic quagmire, set a course for victory in a world war and cemented the foundation of the modern federal government.

Del Roosevelt would be happy with hiring more cops and setting up some crosswalks in Long Beach.

That's Roosevelt, as in President Franklin D., father of the New Deal and the only person ever elected to four terms in the White House.

And that's Del, as in Hall Delano Roosevelt, the former chief executive's grandson, who decided that he can no longer suppress what he refers to as "that nasty little gene." The one with all those hunger-to-hold-elected-office chromosomes, the one that steered two relatives to the presidency.

The 36-year-old Roosevelt obviously never met his grandfather or his distant cousin Theodore, but he decided several weeks ago to enter the family business. He has declared his candidacy for Long Beach's 4th District City Council seat in the April, 1996, election. Thomas J. Clark, a council fixture from that district, announced that he will not seek another term. But he prodded Roosevelt, the marketing director of a Costa Mesa energy firm, to step into the ring.

As a political rookie, H.D.R. conceded that he has no experience in elected office, little in the way of a campaign war chest and is more likely to watch "Batman Forever" with his two sons than C-Span.

But boy, does he have name recognition.

"I'm scared to death," said Roosevelt, who speaks more like a Southern California surfer than a candidate. At this point, he is the only declared office-seeker in the 4th District, which includes depressed inner-city areas and more middle-class neighborhoods, including Los Altos, where he lives. "I don't know who's going to come in. As far as I'm concerned, we're going to run the most aggressive campaign ever. Maybe if we do that, it'll discourage someone else from running. This time."

A Long Beach resident for 13 years and a former Southern California Edison Co. employee, Roosevelt has kept a fairly low profile. He has served on the city's Solid Waste Management Commission, where he helped start a curbside recycling program, and the Community Development Advisory Commission, which reviews distribution of Housing and Urban Development grants to city projects. When he strode into City Hall's election office to introduce himself as Delano Roosevelt, he was still such an unknown that more than one worker privately snickered, "Yeah, right."

Roosevelt said he had thought about pursuing elected office since he was named to the waste management panel five years ago, but until this year avoided politics because his family was unprepared and because he didn't feel the timing was right. Now, things are different.

"I don't want my wife yelling at me any more: 'Either do something about it or stop yelling at the television,' " he said.

If he wins, he said, his priorities will include hiring more police officers, monitoring municipal services and setting up strategically placed stop signs and crosswalks.

Beyond what he called "the small picture things," Roosevelt said he wants to attract more big businesses to Long Beach and guide the city toward becoming more cosmopolitan.

He said the City Council frequently has a "Main Street, Small Town U.S.A." point of view.

"I think it's time to get the message out that we are a player," he said.

*

Born in Los Angeles, Roosevelt attended Pacific Palisades High School and Woodbury University. His father, former U.S. Rep. James Roosevelt, served as the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, and the family lived there for several years when Del was a schoolboy. He and his wife have two sons. Of married life, he says, "Man, it's bitchin'."

At a time when social programs are feeling the heat of Republican conservatism, Roosevelt defends F.D.R.'s New Deal policies as sound, but says the federal bureaucracy has grown so much that New Deal social programs have spiraled out of control.

Del Roosevelt said that he has been active in the family's efforts to preserve F.D.R.'s legacy and that he backs the federal commission designing a memorial to the former President. The panel's plan for the memorial has come under fire from some disabled-activist groups because it would depict F.D.R. only from the waist up or in a seated position--not showing his polio.

"He wanted to be remembered as a great leader, not a great leader with a disability," Roosevelt said.

Roosevelt's colleagues generally praise him for his concern and integrity while serving on two city panels. Nancy Mary, vice chairwoman of the development commission, recalled that Roosevelt has abstained from votes in which he feels he lacks information or has a conflict of interest, including decisions involving the Food Bank of Southern California, a nonprofit group that he works with. The solid waste panel was disbanded two years ago.

Former Mayor Ernie Kell, who appointed Roosevelt to both commissions, said he would "set a high standard for elected officials."

In heeding the call of his heritage, however, Roosevelt joins the ranks of presidential progeny who, historically, have sought office, often with mixed results at the ballot box--particularly in national politics. George Bush's sons split two gubernatorial races last year. Robert A. Taft, son of William Howard Taft, was a Republican senator from Ohio but fell short of winning the party's presidential nomination three times. James Roosevelt, Del's father, was a California congressman but lost the 1950 gubernatorial contest to Earl Warren. And James Jr., Del's older half-brother, lost his bid for a Massachusetts congressional seat to Joseph Kennedy (President John F. Kennedy's nephew).

But Roosevelt says he hopes he can turn his family ties into another family win. Says the would-be heir to the family's political laurels: "We're hoping people will remember us."

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