Fellow school committee members David Barulich and Michael B. Lehrer were impressed by Soboroff's energy and enthusiasm. But Barulich said Soboroff's mayoral aspirations got in the way of good judgment when he rammed through, with inadequate planning, a project to install school air-conditioners.
"He's a guy who wants to make a deal happen," Barulich said.
Lehrer, an architect, detected "well-meaning naivete" in Soboroff's toughness with school officials bedeviled by project delays, contractor mix-ups and management turmoil. "Get-things-done and can-do sometimes can be too fast," Lehrer said.
At school district headquarters, rancor toward Soboroff runs deep. Officials call him a bully who drove people out of their jobs when they resisted his will.
"He's kind of an ask-questions-later person at times, and that would often rub district officials the wrong way," said Erik Nasarenko, a former district spokesman.
Emulating Riordan's Formula for Success
Other rich businessmen who turned to politics have faced similar criticism. Whereas Riordan--in an extraordinarily different political climate--proved that the transition is possible, it is far more common for candidacies like Soboroff's to fail.
As much as he can, he is mimicking Riordan. His appeal is aimed at the same white Republicans, San Fernando Valley residents and Jewish moderates who formed the mayor's base. He has made a point of courting Latino and African American voters, but it has been a tough sell. He is the only major candidate for mayor committed to fighting the federal court consent decree mandating Los Angeles Police Department reforms to curb police misconduct. The city must "stop fighting cops" and "start fighting crime," he says. He also favors splitting the school district into neighborhood districts--a popular idea in the Valley, even if it would be outside his mayoral authority.
Soboroff says it never occurred to him to run for mayor until Riordan asked a few years ago if he might be interested. At times, his inexperience shows.
Over lunch downtown, he struggled with questions on abortion. First, he said teenagers should be required to notify parents before getting one. Should the government fund abortions for women who can't afford them? "I would probably prefer not." A moment later, he wobbled. "I just haven't taken it to the different levels in my own thinking, and the realities of it haven't hit me."
The next day, he called to clarify: He opposes parental notification requirements and favors public funding of abortions for the poor.
Another time, Soboroff boasted at an environmental forum of driving an electric car. He needled the other candidates for their "gas guzzlers."
"You guys talk the talk. I walk the walk," he said. The next day, he pulled up to a restaurant on Ventura Boulevard in his other car, a gas-guzzling Ford Expedition.
"I've got five kids," he said later with a shrug. "What am I supposed to do? I've got to drive them around."
But to Soboroff, inexperience in politics is not a failing; it's his calling card. Thirty years in real estate and eight in the Riordan administration, he argues, have trained him to run Los Angeles.
"I'm not doing this because I'm out of work," he said. "I'm not doing it as a career politician who's only been in politics. I'm doing it as someone who has a balance."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
* Born: Aug. 31, 1948, in Chicago.
* Education: University of Arizona, bachelor of science and master of science in finance, insurance and real estate.
* Personal: Married to Patti Soboroff. Five children: Jacob, 17, Miles, 15, Molly, 13, Hannah, 12, and Leah, 7.
* Party: Republican
* Career: Senior advisor to Mayor Richard Riordan, 1996-2000; Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Commission chairman, 1994-2001; Proposition BB Blue Ribbon Citizens Oversight Committee chairman, 1997-2000; Harbor Commission chairman, 1993-94; Soboroff Partners, managing partner, 1978-present; J.K. Eichenbaum Associates, 1971-78.
* Strategy: Soboroff casts himself as a political outsider in the mold of Riordan, hoping to capture--and expand upon--the mayor's base of white Republican, San Fernando Valley and Jewish voters. He emphasizes proposals to step up anti-gang programs, break up the Los Angeles Unified School District and ban road construction on major arteries during rush hours.
About This Series
The Times today presents the third of six profiles of the major candidates for mayor. The articles will appear in the order in which the candidates will appear on the ballot.