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Hayden Pins Hopes on Infomercial for Cable Television

Low-budget cinema verite-style ad will air this week on Century channels. Analyst says it's too little, too late.


Call him the poor man's Ross Perot.

Trailing in the polls, struggling with fund-raising and considered by political analysts to be an impossible underdog, state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) on Wednesday unveiled a 30-minute infomercial to boost his mayoral campaign.

But unlike Perot's $1.4-million campaign strategically placed on network television during the 1992 presidential election, Hayden's "documentary" is an eclectic, witty, "Roger and Me"-style collection of snippets from the past few weeks on the campaign trail. So far, it is scheduled to run only eight times on a small Westside cable station, at a cost of about $600 a pop.

Meanwhile, incumbent Mayor Richard Riordan has had television ads running regularly on major broadcast channels since March 6.

"I just don't see that this long-form, not-very-frequent-showing documentary is going to have any impact on the mayor's race," said Claremont Graduate School political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe. "In terms of targeting an audience on cable, that is a very good strategy in this day and age. But it's not enough. It's not nearly enough."

Hayden said Wednesday that he plans to put the documentary on broadcast television before the April 8 election, but that he will probably have to settle for a late-night or early morning time slot. The campaign will also hand out copies to volunteers to show at community meetings.

"Even if it's a few thousand, or a few tens of thousands, of people who see this, at least I will feel they had a chance to get inside my head and see a bit of the campaign," Hayden said. "Our campaign is an attempt to create an image and a reality of a visible mayor in the neighborhoods rather than . . . someone who buys an election with hypnotic TV spots."

Produced by Eamon Harrington, a documentary filmmaker and Hayden political friend, the video echoes similar ones Hayden made for his 1994 gubernatorial campaign and the Big Green statewide environmental initiative in 1990. It has a low-budget feel, with the camera often shaky or cutting off parts of people's faces.

There is much footage of Hayden strolling through streets, leaflets in hand, and of the candidate chatting as he rides around his school bus-turned-"mobile headquarters." It also shows Hayden talking to a Mensa group about the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, signing an anti-gang "peace pledge" with supporters in his Crenshaw district office, and at a news conference about revitalizing the Los Angeles River.

"Here was our Mississippi. I would think I was Tom Sawyer," says a man who stumbled upon the river news conference just before taking his son to Malibu Canyon, an hour away, to go fishing. "To see that this could be possible--you'd be bringing people into the city where we live, instead of going out. Let's develop it. You've got my vote."

Also at the river, the video attempts to embarrass Riordan campaign press secretary Todd Harris, who sometimes attends Hayden's news conferences.

"I haven't read anything on the river," Harris says when Harrington queries him about the mayor's position. Asked what he thinks of the river, Harris says, "I've never been down there."

A minute later, Harris is shown talking to the television news cameras covering the event.

"The question here today is not whether or not the mayor supports rivers. . . . Obviously, everyone would love to see a vibrant, beautiful river running through our city," Harris said. "The question really is one of cost. How much is it going to cost the people of Los Angeles? How many officers are going to have to be taken off the streets?"

The segment closes with Hayden pointing out the pollution in the river.

"Oh, they want to add another 12 feet just to protect people from nature," he says as he climbs up the concrete walls. "Only cost you $600 million."

Other than the river project, the video offers few specifics about what Hayden would do if elected, other than curtailing the underground subway and establishing satellite mayoral offices in various parts of the city. He mainly talks about empowerment and bringing diverse cultures together, and criticizes the incumbent for being downtown and invisible.

At one point, City Hall is shown behind barbed wire.

Riordan has a cameo when Hayden confronts the mayor outside the office of Century Cable as they arrived for their debate earlier this month. The mayor's closing statement from the debate, in which Riordan stumbles over several words and appears awkward, takes up a full minute, before Hayden comes on screen and speaks directly to voters:

"Please don't forget to vote on April 8," he says, cracking a joke about his friends thinking the election is not until November. "Let's wake up. We can change Los Angeles. I'd love to be your mayor."

So far, the infomercial is scheduled to air on Century Cable--which has 120,000 subscribers--Friday at 6:30 p.m., Sunday at 10 a.m. and on five evenings next week.

"I hardly think that a 30-minute, disjointed, hodgepodge of conspiracy theories is going to win over any undecided voters," said Harris. "You don't swing an electorate by competing with Nick at Nite at 3 a.m."

Regarding his own appearance in the video, he added: "If Sen. Hayden wants to make this race about him versus me, it's just one more example of how he has nothing to say to the people of Los Angeles."

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