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LOS ANGELES COUNTY ELECTIONS

Opinions as Spread Out as the City

Voters: A tour of diverse polling places finds voters' hopes and choices running the gamut.

April 11, 2001|NICHOLAS RICCARDI and NOAKI SCHWARTZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Nancy Aviles, an 18-year-old college student, felt pressure from two directions as she headed out to vote in Tuesday's mayoral election.

Her parents told her to cast her first vote for a Latino. Then, Tuesday afternoon, two volunteers for James K. Hahn's campaign knocked on the door of the Aviles' South-Central home and urged her to support their candidate.

"I'm excited, I have to vote," Aviles said as she finished leafing through the Hahn literature and headed to her polling station. "I'll decide when I get there." (She chose Hahn.)

Thousands of Los Angeles residents made their pick Tuesday in the freewheeling mayoral contest. Some were guided by their desire to elect the city's first Latino mayor in modern times, others by party or family loyalties.

Martha Duran, a 45-year-old San Pedro teacher's aide, said she and her husband argued for weeks over which candidate to support--City Atty. Hahn or former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa. "Both have experience, and they come from L.A. and have good families," Duran said.

Her husband ultimately decided on Hahn, and he thought she had agreed. "Don't tell my husband," she said as she left the polling station at Richard Dana Middle School, "but I voted for Villaraigosa."

In the final hours of the hard-fought campaign, the leading candidates spared little effort in wooing wavering voters such as Duran and Aviles. The Hahn campaign dispatched 25 Ford Windstar vans around South-Central to ferry voters to the polls. The Villaraigosa campaign, backed by organized labor, operated phone banks and turnout drives from six sites across the city. Other campaigns also worked the phones.

"We've contacted about 100,000 people directly in the last 24 hours," said businessman Steve Soboroff. "If Los Angeles government were as organized as this campaign is, we wouldn't need any more money, and no one would be talking about secession."

Ana Gonzalez, a poll worker staffing Santa Monica Boulevard Elementary School in Hollywood, said calls from campaigns seeking her vote were so numerous that she did not answer her phone Monday night. Her answering machine recorded eight messages.

Sue Blumenthal, 88, was also annoyed. "I stopped answering the phone because they were calling so much," the West Los Angeles resident said. Mayor Richard "Riordan called twice. Too many phone calls, too much money spent on literature."

Some voters made up their minds long ago. Developer James Rothstein, 54, said his vote for Soboroff was a business decision.

"I have to do a lot of business with the City of Los Angeles," he said as he left the rear guest house of a Brentwood estate where he cast his ballot. Rothstein said he thought Soboroff would be good because "running city government is not so much about policy than it is about actually managing the city."

On Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Paul Crawford dashed in to the Creative Learning Center Nursery School, cast his vote for Hahn and then hopped back into his aging sedan, hoping to make his son's Little League game in Carson.

"I would have felt like I would not have been living if I didn't vote," said Crawford, a computer technician who said he backed Hahn because of his late father, former County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who represented South-Central for decades.

With his unruly beard and Grateful Dead T-shirt, Sam Weissen was the picture of the Silver Lake citizen as he strode from the local polling station in the eclectic, left-leaning neighborhood. But the lifetime Republican has known from early in the campaign that he'd back Soboroff.

"We've got a strong, strong Republican candidate," Weissen said, "and the 5% of us who live in this neighborhood have to get out and vote."

The ghost of the Florida voting debacle during last year's presidential contest hung over Tuesday's vote, with everyone from poll workers to voters alert to the pitfalls of punch card ballots.

In years of voting, nurse Carrie Salvador in San Pedro said, Tuesday was the first time she double-checked her ballot. "Make it triple-check," she said. "I want my vote to count."

Salvador, 46, voted for Villaraigosa. "It's a Latino city, and I think we need someone who understands Latino people." A Philippines native who moved to L.A. at age 10, she added: "And there was no Filipino candidate for me to vote for."

Among Latinos, there was palpable excitement about having both Villaraigosa and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) on the ballot. "We've been very underrepresented in the government in general," said Maria Diaz, 34, outside Sutter Middle School in Canoga Park. She voted for Villaraigosa.

Jose Torres had to drive to Gardena for his job as a hospital cook, but first he made sure to vote at the Hollywood elementary school his sons attend. He preferred Becerra--"he seems very smart and studious"--but said he would be happy if either Latino won. "This is the future of Los Angeles," he said.

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