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Elections '96: A Voter Handbook | The Fight for Calfiornia:
Candidates for president, the Congress and the Legislature
are among those fighting for your attention and your
vote Tuesday. A look at the combatants.

L.A. COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS : Classic Battle Between Well-Connected Insider and Upstart Outsider

Don Knabe, who spent 14 years as an aide to Deane Dana, trumpets his experience. Gordana Swanson, an outspoken critic of county government, promises change.

November 03, 1996|JEFFREY L. RABIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a hard-fought campaign, the long wait is almost over for Don Knabe and Gordana Swanson. Only one will be elected Tuesday as the next Los Angeles County supervisor.

Voters face a sharp choice between Knabe, the veteran chief of staff to retiring Supervisor Deane Dana, and Swanson, an outspoken critic of the country's largest county government.

Knabe says he offers experience and vision, while Swanson promises change. The campaign is a classic contest between an entrenched insider financed by special interests and an underfinanced but determined outsider.

When all the votes are counted, Knabe will have raised and spent more than $2.6 million, at least five times more than Swanson.

Their style and approach to the county's problems have been shaped largely by their distinctly different experiences.

Knabe, 53, a former mayor and councilman in Cerritos, has long been politically ambitious, running unsuccessfully for Congress and the state Senate before Dana endorsed him as his successor.

As the supervisor's right-hand man for the last 14 years, Knabe has been intimately involved with a wide array of county issues.

Swanson, 61, is former president of the Southern California Rapid Transit District and a veteran mayor and councilwoman in the gated community of Rolling Hills.

Long interested in transportation, she has had a running feud with Dana since he removed her from the transit board in 1980. Swanson made her way back, only to see the agency disappear into the huge Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

For years, she has criticized management of the county, particularly large salary and pension hikes. Swanson forced Dana into a runoff in 1992, but he won reelection with Knabe managing his campaign.

When it comes to the county's deep financial troubles, Knabe blames the state for taking a share of the county's property taxes. Swanson accuses the supervisors of creating a bloated bureaucracy.

Knabe, in his five-point plan for the county's future, looks forward, not backward. There is no mention that he works for Dana. Nor is there any indication of that in mailers from the county's unions, which praise Knabe without explaining how he has helped them.

Instead, Knabe presents himself as an experienced problem-solver endorsed by many elected officials, from Sheriff Sherman Block and Supervisor Mike Antonovich to Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill.

In her only mailer, Swanson focuses on the financial crisis that led to closing jails and releasing inmates early, some of whom allegedly went on to commit murder.

Although their approach differs, both candidates want to open the new high-security Twin Towers jail near downtown Los Angeles. They have another thing in common in the nonpartisan 4th District race: Both are Republicans.

But throughout the campaign, Swanson has tried to link Knabe to the county's troubles because of his long association with Dana. That emphasis has forced Knabe to remind audiences that he and Dana are different people.

Swanson favors and Knabe opposes an independent commission to guide the county health system.

Knabe supports Proposition 209, which would restrict state and local government affirmative action programs. Swanson opposes it.

She wants to limit supervisors to two terms in office; he does not.

Knabe is pushing for the high-rise redevelopment of county-owned Marina del Rey, which Swanson is against.

He has endorsed Measure A to pay for county parks and open space. She objects to it, in part because money from a 1992 county parks measure is being used for a Deane Dana nature center.

Knabe has made his case with television ads, billboards, signs, mailers and campaign offices in five cities. To pay for it, he raised over $2.6 million largely from unions, lobbyists, developers, Metro Rail contractors, Marina del Rey leaseholders, ambulance companies, waste haulers and others doing business with the county.

A lack of funds has severely hampered Swanson's ability to reach the almost 880,000 registered voters from Marina del Rey to Long Beach and Lakewood to Diamond Bar.

In all, Swanson has raised about $500,000, including personal loans of nearly $200,000. But she spent much of it in last spring's crowded primary.

Since then, she has been able to afford few mailers and has relied on personal campaigning, face-to-face encounters with her opponent, and endorsements from the Sierra Club and numerous women's groups.

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