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Intrigue Shadows Candidate Forum

As hopefuls debate Valley-specific issues, the actions of one who wants two others to quit are questioned.


VAN NUYS — Amid a dispute over one candidate trying to get two others to drop out of the race, contenders for the 5th District seat on the Los Angeles City Council squared off Thursday in a forum which centered on ways to reduce traffic congestion and boost San Fernando Valley political representation.

Eleven candidates are vying to succeed Councilman Mike Feuer--who is running for city attorney--to represent an area that extends from Westwood to Van Nuys.

The forum, sponsored by the Mid-Valley and Sherman Oaks chambers of commerce at the Airtel Plaza Hotel, was held hours after two candidates in the race, Victor Viereck and Jill Barad, said opponent Ken Gerston of Sherman Oaks tried to persuade them to drop out of the race.

Gerston said he suggested that Viereck and Barad drop out and support him to further the influence of the San Fernando Valley. Gerston flatly denied offering anything to them in return.

"We need a Valley representative here. This district has never had a Valley representative," Gerston said. "What I said [about Barad] was, since my campaign is stronger, why doesn't she run for something else."

Viereck, a Valley Village accountant, said Gerston approached him at least twice suggesting that if he dropped out, Gerston might arrange some city appointment for him.

"He did not make it sound real definite. He never guaranteed anything," Viereck said.

He said Gerston claimed to be in the best position of the four Valley candidates to win against the seven candidates from the West Los Angeles portion of the district.

Barad, a Sherman Oaks political consultant, said Gerston approached one of her supporters and asked what it would take to get her to drop out of the race, and suggested he might be able to help her win a seat in the Assembly.

Gerston said he told Viereck that the accountant might be able to help the city in another role other than as a council member, but said he didn't offer him a job or appointment in return for dropping out.

The state Election Code prohibits offering "money or other valuable consideration to or for the use of any person in order to induce a person . . . to withdraw as a candidate for public office."

Meanwhile, Thursday's candidate forum, attended by nine contenders, featured an unusual format in which 60 members of the audience were given red and green cards to hold up to show their support (green) or opposition (red) to what each candidate said.

Bruce Ackerman, the president of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, tried to stimulate discussion by presenting proposals on which candidates were asked to comment.

Those topics included abolition of the city's controversial business license tax and increasing from four to five the number of council districts wholly within the Valley. Candidates were asked for solutions to the Valley's traffic congestion and whether they support the Van Nuys Airport master plan that could allow for development of 113 acres at the airfield.

Former state Sen. Tom Hayden, who is seen as a leading candidate in the race, joined Barad in calling for changing the gross receipts tax to one based on net income, and also called for tougher enforcement on the 40% of businesses that he said don't pay taxes.

"It is a disadvantage for people who pay their taxes," to have lax enforcement, said Hayden, a Westwood resident.

Former federal prosecutor Jack Weiss, another leading contender, said the Valley needs more mass transit, more traffic synchronization and creation of a Valley transit zone.

The forum was also attended by Westwood homeowner activist Laura Lake, who called for making mass transit in Los Angeles free. "If you are going to get people out of their cars you are going to have to do something radical," Lake said.

All of the candidates supported increasing the number of Valley-only council districts from four to at least five, while Gerston called for six districts. Consumer protection attorney Nate Bernstein said he supported seven such districts.

When asked if they would support the Van Nuys Airport master plan, which would allow development of one-half to two-thirds of what is now undeveloped property, none of the candidates offered unconditional support, while Hayden and Bernstein voiced the strongest opposition.

Most of the candidates received a nearly equal mix of red and green cards in response to their answers. In an unscientific straw poll conducted by the chambers at the end of the forum, Gerston, Weiss, and Barad finished 1-2-3.


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