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Contrasts Shed Light on Candidates

Campaign: Mayor presents himself as the thoughtful, incisive deal-maker. Hayden assumes the role of the brash, would-be healer.

March 24, 1997|JIM NEWTON and JODI WILGOREN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Gregarious and irrepressible, state Sen. Tom Hayden works Los Angeles one handshake at a time. He cruises the city in his mini-school bus, jumping out to distribute his own leaflets. And he warms to the sight of a microphone, speaking without notes, with little prompting and with no evident restraint.

Mayor Richard Riordan is a different kind of candidate. He prefers personal interviews to press conferences and seems more comfortable with small children and senior citizens than vocal activists. He sometimes stumbles on names, keeps a far lighter public schedule than his opponent and prefers to handle political business as business, not politics.

"Some people don't think I'm a great political rhetorician," he acknowledges. "But I'm a doer."

Riordan, a moderate Republican, and Hayden, a liberal Democrat, are as different on the stump as they are ideologically or temperamentally, and their differences speak volumes about the kind of mayor each seeks to be: the brash would-be healer vs. the thoughtful, deceptively incisive deal-maker. For Hayden, the campaign is a moving opportunity, a platform from which to air ideas and engage in debate; for Riordan, it is a necessary inconvenience in the business of governing, a process that is growing on him but one that still detracts from his main interests.

It even shows up in their advertisements: Hayden's are biting, sometimes snide, attacks at the incumbent mayor "and his corporate raider partners." Riordan's television spot is lavish and full of optimism. It makes no mention whatsoever of his opponent, whom Riordan aides view more as a pest than a genuine threat to unseat the mayor.

The contrasting approaches of Riordan and Hayden illustrate the deep gulf that separates the two men, one raised in the public conflict of left-wing student politics, the other schooled in the backroom art of venture capitalism. They also reflect the status quo in the campaign, which has Riordan polling well ahead of his rival. And most importantly, they offer a window into the personalities of the two men who vie to lead Los Angeles and whom voters will consider on April 8.

It is a sweaty Friday around noon, and Tom Hayden is looking for voters where there are few--a council district where turnout historically has been low. Most residents here are Latino, and Hayden is trying out his Spanish as he offers bilingual leaflets to shoppers in a supermarket parking lot.

"Hola," he says, "soy candidato para alcalde. Abril ocho." ("Hello, I'm a candidate for mayor. April 8.")

Many shoppers seem surprised to run across a mayoral candidate, much less one greeting them in Spanish. Some stop for a moment or two to chat. As always, Hayden is running late. He walks twice as fast as everyone in his entourage, but then gets behind by talking at length.

"Every parking lot a precinct," he declares. That's true on the Westside, where voters turn out in large numbers. But for Hayden, it's also true in Highland Park, today's stop.

"That doesn't mean it's unimportant," Hayden says. "As a mayor, you have to have a moral and political standard, and [mine] is that the neglected communities need attention."

After a few minutes distributing leaflets, Hayden runs out. He pulls a $20 bill from his wallet and sends an aide off to a copy shop. The aide returns with a new stack, but they're in English only, not much help in this predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood. Undeterred, Hayden campaigns on.

He stomps across a deserted parking lot to speak to someone sitting in a car, then spies a worker sitting far away, at the back of an empty store. Both get fliers and a talking to from the man who would be mayor.

Most stops find Hayden accompanied by at least a modest press contingent. He is running on a shoestring budget compared to the incumbent, and Hayden has welcomed press coverage.

One day, he sits for an interview with the Lesbian News, the next with Newsweek. He accepts invitations from any radio or television talk show that asks. He speaks to groups as small as six and as large as 600, and he shows up at residents' association meetings, college and high school campuses and political clubs. He drops in at bowling alleys, goes to synagogue every Friday evening, and attends church every Sunday morning.

Day after day, he sprints through commercial districts, visiting merchants and patrons, interrupting meals in outdoor cafes and stopping mall traffic to sign autographs, pose for pictures and answer questions.

Because he entered the race so late, his schedule is also sprinkled with fund-raisers--house parties where he drones on as a few dozen supporters sit on the floor wondering whether he has even the smallest chance.

But the signature of Hayden's "grass-roots" campaign is simply walking the streets. Several times a day he jumps off the bus, a stack of leaflets in hand, and struts out to meet the people.

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