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Garcetti's Fund-Raising Gives Him Big Advantage

Campaign: D.A. has nearly $1 million to spend on race, far more than his five challengers.

February 13, 1996|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Four years ago, with incumbent Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner vulnerable after embarrassing losses in high-profile trials, the primary election attracted a pack of challengers.

It also produced a surprise winner--one of Reiner's chief deputies, Gil Garcetti.

Now it's Garcetti's turn to stand for reelection. And a new pack of challengers insists that Garcetti is vulnerable in the wake of his failure to win convictions in the murder trials of O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers.

With many of the challengers pledging to make the March 26 primary a referendum on Garcetti--particularly his handling of the Simpson case--the question is a natural:

Is it Garcetti's turn to be tossed out of office?

It's possible, political experts said. But unlikely.

None of the five challengers has Garcetti's extraordinary name recognition. And perhaps more important, none of them has the stash of cash--roughly $1 million--he has tucked away in the bank.

"There is some room to move Garcetti, to get him into a runoff. And it may still happen," said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior associate at the Center for Politics and Economics at Claremont Graduate School. "But I don't think so."

The reason, she and other analysts say, is the money Garcetti has in hand.

Garcetti has redefined the way one runs for the office of district attorney in the nation's second-largest city. Throughout his term, he has raised money aggressively, raking in six figures even in 1993, a political off-year. "I'm a good businessman," he said in an interview at his office, a tinge of bravado in his voice.

The money--$944,881 cash on hand as of the end of December, the most recent reporting period--is not long for the bank. Instead, vast sums will be spent on television advertising in the weeks before the primary; Garcetti is campaigning for a local office as if he were running for a state or national post.

Unless the five challengers abruptly raise significant amounts, according to Dick Rosengarten, editor of the California Political Week newsletter, Garcetti stands a 70% chance of winning election outright in March, averting a runoff in November. To win outright a candidate must draw 50% of the vote plus one.

As of the last reporting period, according to county files, the combined totals of the five challengers' cash on hand is not even one-fifth of what Garcetti has. Though a couple of challengers can boast that they have raised sizable amounts, their war chests pale next to Garcetti's, and the money available to spend--cash on hand--was far less.

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Malcolm Jordan, a veteran deputy district attorney, leads the challengers with $336,215 in contributions. He had cash on hand of $177,913.

Lawyer Harold Greenberg raised $69,850 but had cash on hand of only $3,394. He and Jordan spent about $50,000 apiece on statements to be included in the sample ballots that go to registered voters; they were the only candidates who did so.

John Lynch--who heads the district attorney's Norwalk office and entered the race late, in December--raised $7,273. His available cash totaled $4,836.

Encino attorney Steve Zand raised $8,600--$6,500 of which came in loans he made to himself. He had $1,143 cash on hand.

Sterling Norris, a deputy district attorney based at the Pasadena courthouse, filed no report.

An updated report from each of the six men is due to be filed this week.

The challengers' December numbers, Rosengarten said, are "miserable." He quickly amended that statement: "No, they're absolutely atrocious. Combined, these guys don't have enough money to cause Garcetti to even break into a sweat."

Garcetti, however, is taking no chances. He said he plans to buy television and radio time to deliver his message to the county's 3.5 million registered voters.

Garcetti's message is plain: As a whole, the office--the nation's largest local public law agency--does a good job.

Each workday, he said, Los Angeles County prosecutors ship 100 newly convicted felons to state prison.

The conviction rate in felony jury trials, he said, is 85%. In murder cases involving alleged gang members, notoriously difficult cases to prove, the conviction rate is 90%, he said.

"The accomplishments, with some modesty, are significant," Garcetti said. But he also said: "Most people don't know about all this."

Hence the motivation to raise a pile of money.

"The truth," said Garcetti's political strategist, Bill Carrick, "is that you've got to get to at least a 1,000 rating-point level on TV," meaning a candidate must buy enough broadcast television time--not cable--to give the average viewer 10 chances to see an advertisement before the March 26.

That takes at least $600,000, he said.

In politics, Garcetti said, money is a "regretful necessity." But, he added, "It is a necessity."

The others are just as mindful of that fact.

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