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Election Could Redefine Valley's Legislative Voice

February 25, 1996|HENRY CHU and NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The candidates are busy banging on doors and putting the arm on potential supporters. More seats are open than at any time in recent San Fernando Valley political history. The two main parties, as well as Latino and women's groups, are warring for the chance to significantly recast the Valley's legislative voice in both Washington and Sacramento.

But while the state's first-ever March primary is just four weeks away, the local election season has so far failed to ignite much interest among the public, despite races that have caught the collective eyes of political observers across the country.

California's only two open congressional seats are up for grabs in the Valley; Republican and Democratic national leaders have identified them as key districts to defend or conquer. Voters in the northeast Valley have the chance to send the area's first Latino lawmaker to the state Assembly. And religious conservatives continue to rise to prominence in the high desert.

But the local contests seem to have suffered in the shadow of presidential politics on the national level and from an earlier-than-ever state primary date that has sent candidates scrambling to get ready.

Political Briefing
Los Angeles Times Friday March 1, 1996 Valley Edition Metro Part B Page 5 Zones Desk 2 inches; 66 words Type of Material: Correction
FOR THE RECORD: Elisa J. Charouhas' name was inadvertently omitted from a list in Sunday's Times of Democrats running for Congress in the 24th district primary, the seat being vacated by Anthony C. Beilenson's retirement. The corporate ethics consultant and onetime aide to former Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown had not raised any campaign funds by the December filing period. Like Brown in his 1992 presidential bid, Charouhas has pledged to take no contributions over $100.

"Moving the primary up cut into the amount of preparation time people have," said Republican pollster Arnold Steinberg. "There's less money, less time, less awareness."

A recent statewide survey showed that half of the state's voters have no idea of the primary's date. Only 16% knew it was in March.

"Everybody gets oversaturated," added Northridge political consultant Paul Clarke. "They've heard presidential stuff for the last three months, and quite frankly, if you asked the man in the street, 'Do you want to read about political campaigns or something else?' something else would come first."

Nonetheless, results of the two congressional races, an open race for the state Senate in Glendale and Burbank and five open Assembly contests from Palmdale to Glendale, and from North Hollywood to Northridge, could reverberate in both the national and state capitols.

In the 24th and 27th districts, being vacated by retiring Reps. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) and Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale), party leaders have targeted the seats as vulnerable and crucial in the battle to control the House of Representatives. They are the only two open congressional seats in the state and, on paper, could be won by either party.

Beilenson's district, which stretches from Thousand Oaks to Malibu and includes large chunks of the Valley's hillside communities, is difficult terrain for a Democrat.

His Republican opponent of two years ago, businessman Rich Sybert, is making another bid for office, this time without an incumbent in his path. Sybert, who by year's end had raised nearly $112,000, some of it for old campaign debts, faces less well-known Republicans Stephen C. Brecht and K. Paul Jhin in the primary.

Six Democrats will mix it up on their side of the ballot.

The leading Democratic candidate, Board of Equalization member Brad Sherman, has support from organized labor and many Democratic officeholders. He jump-started his campaign with a $275,000 personal loan and had raised $12,000 by the end of last year, the last available records for congressional candidates.

His opponents are teacher Craig Freis, professor Michael Jordan, consultant Elizabeth Knipe, businessman/attorney Jeffrey A. Lipow and financial planner Mark S. Pash.

In the race to replace Moorhead, popular Assemblyman James Rogan (D-Glendale) has an immediate edge in what has traditionally been a Republican seat. He has one primary opponent, Pasadena resident Joe Paul.

But Democrats no longer concede this district, which because of expanded boundaries and a registration drive now tilts slightly Democratic, though not enough to overcome Republicans' greater propensity to vote.

"The registration is coming our way, but it's not there yet," said Democratic consultant Larry Levine.

Vying to oppose Rogan are Democrat Barry Gordon, an actor and former president of the Screen Actors Guild, and businessman Doug Kahn, a perennial candidate. Gordon has amassed strong support from fellow Democrats such as Rep. Howard Berman (D-Panorama City) and has heavy backing from labor groups, women's groups and the entertainment industry. His latest campaign report indicates he had about $26,000 on hand at the end of the year, with several major fund-raisers scheduled.

Gordon said many area Republicans "are sick and tired of the extreme right-wing agenda" and may vote for him, rather than Rogan. "I'm the only candidate who can beat Rogan," he said.

Kahn has more money than Gordon, chiefly his $400,000 personal loan to the campaign. He also has the advantage of being a familiar name from his past efforts as a candidate.

"How in the world does Barry Gordon beat a guy [Kahn] who most of the Democrats in the district have voted for two times?" asked Levine, who is not involved in the race.

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