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LOS ANGELES VOTERS' GUIDE | CITY ATTORNEY / CONTROLLER

Spirited Races for Overshadowed Posts

L.A.'s other citywide offices--one of which is likely to go to a woman for the first time--draw small but competitive fields.

April 08, 2001|JEAN MERL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They have been overshadowed by the headline-grabbing, big-spending race for Los Angeles mayor, but the contests for the other two citywide offices on Tuesday's ballot--city attorney and city controller--nonetheless have been spirited, and sometimes quite contentious.

The city's term limits law is forcing City Atty. James K. Hahn (who is running for mayor) and City Controller Rick Tuttle from the posts they have held for 16 years. But unlike the crowded field to replace the termed-out Mayor Richard Riordan, just a handful of candidates are competing for Hahn's and Tuttle's posts.

The contests are part of sweeping changes in store for the city this year, when voters also will elect, in addition to a new mayor, at least six new representatives to the 15-member City Council.

And the race for the $146,356-a-year post of controller--essentially the city's bookkeeper and fiscal watchdog--is the one most likely to bring Los Angeles its first woman ever elected to citywide office.

The city attorney, who gets paid $159,661 a year, runs an office of 433 lawyers and 500 other staff members. The office prosecutes all misdemeanor and infraction cases within city limits and provides legal counsel to all city departments, elected officials and advisory boards and commissions.

Vying to become the next city attorney are Councilman Mike Feuer; Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo, who has headed Riordan's economic development efforts for much of the mayor's two terms; and two county prosecutors, Deputy Dist. Attys. Lea Purwin D'Agostino and Frank Tavelman.

The leading contenders--at least in terms of money they have to communicate with voters--are Feuer and Delgadillo. Each expects to have spent more than $1 million by the time voters go to the polls Tuesday.

A recent Los Angeles Times poll showed Feuer with a slight lead among likely voters, followed closely by Delgadillo, then D'Agostino. But fully half of those polled said they had yet to make up their minds, leaving the race wide open.

Most political observers doubt that any candidate can muster a majority of the vote Tuesday. If no one does, the top two vote-getters will meet in a runoff June 5.

Feuer began the race almost two years ago, raising money and sewing up an array of endorsements, including some made before the other candidates emerged. His backers include the Sierra Club and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Feuer got his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard and ran Bet Tzedek Legal Services, which works with the Westside's poor and elderly, before his election to the council in 1995. Since then, he has pushed for gun controls, worked for tighter regulation of billboards and championed stronger anti-corruption measures. Last week, the National Rifle Assn. sent a mailer to its members criticizing Feuer for his gun-control efforts.

As city attorney, he said, he would emphasize better protections for children, the elderly, neighborhoods and the environment.

Delgadillo entered the race much later than Feuer but has surpassed him in fund-raising and has used a large chunk of his campaign treasury to run television commercials featuring Riordan--who has endorsed him and helped him raise money--and businessman and former basketball star Magic Johnson.

Delgadillo's contributors include those whose firms have received help from the mayor's office of economic development, which Delgadillo heads. A large outdoor advertising firm, which has battled Feuer over sign regulations, has put up about 100 billboards supporting Delgadillo.

Feuer's refusal to accept contributions from lobbyists and political action committees has made it harder for him to raise money. He has, however, received many donations from attorneys, and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Democratic Party have helped his campaign through mailers and other means.

Raised on the Eastside and educated at Harvard and Columbia University Law School, Delgadillo joined the prestigious downtown law firm of O'Melveny & Myers. He worked with Rebuild L.A. in the wake of the 1992 riots and joined the mayor's office shortly after Riordan took office in 1993.

While Feuer talks about his legal and political qualifications for the office, Delgadillo emphasizes his community roots and says he would make safer and less crowded schools his top priority. Besides Riordan, his other prominent backers include former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

Although substantially outspent, D'Agostino has run an aggressive campaign, garnering endorsements from every major statewide and city law enforcement group and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., among others.

At numerous candidate forums across the city, she has attacked Feuer and Delgadillo as members of the city's political establishment and said she is best qualified to crack down on crime and deal with the millions of dollars in liability claims against the city resulting from the Rampart Division police corruption scandal.

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