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Young Guns Battle for Votes in 40th District

Vying for an Assembly seat, rookie candidates Andrei Cherny and Lloyd Levine are no strangers to politics.

January 28, 2002|MASSIE RITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At ages 26 and 32, respectively, Andrei Cherny and Lloyd Levine are too young to be branded Old Boys. Still, the Democratic candidates for the San Fernando Valley's 40th Assembly District are politically connected beyond their years.

Cherny was writing speeches for then-Vice President Al Gore 10 days out of Harvard and helped craft his party's platform in 2000. He also worked for the district's current assemblyman, Speaker Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks), whose term expires this year.

Levine was until recently an Assembly aide as well. His father, Larry, has run many local political campaigns and is a chief opponent of Valley cityhood.

The 40th Assembly District encompasses Van Nuys, Reseda, Northridge, Canoga Park, North Hills and Woodland Hills. West Hills businesswoman Connie Friedman is competing for the Republicans in a district where registered Democrats outnumber the GOP 49% to 32%.

Mindful that their March 5 primary will almost certainly determine who wins in November, Cherny and Levine are running the next five weeks as if they were in the homestretch. Despite similar life stories--raised in the Valley, gone for a while, back in time for the campaign--both young men accuse the other of parachuting into the district for the political opportunity and relying on other people's connections to mount their bids.

Levine said that despite Cherny's lofty title as a senior policy advisor to Hertzberg, his opponent's career since graduating from Harvard five years ago has been spent writing speeches in Washington and halfheartedly attending law school at UC Berkeley before dropping out.

"I was in Sacramento and I never, ever saw Andrei Cherny there," said Levine, a UC Riverside graduate who was legislative director for Assemblyman John Longville (D-Rialto).

Meanwhile, Cherny said that Levine, by living in the state capital since 1994 and working most recently for an assemblyman from the Inland Empire, has pulled up any roots he ever had in the Valley.

"I made a commitment to myself to come back and always considered this my home," Cherny said. "Lloyd did not."

Levine said Cherny would pose no contest if it weren't for Hertz- berg. He accused the genial speaker of "arm-twisting" his supporters to back protege Cherny. Cherny has said the same of Levine's father and complained to the Fair Political Practices Commission that Larry Levine is illegally funding his son.

Political consultant Levine lent his son $88,000 last year, which Lloyd Levine in turn lent his campaign. They have been upfront about the transaction but now concede that it might have violated state law. Candidates can accept loans only from commercial lenders; any other loans for political purposes are considered contributions. And $88,000 far exceeds the contribution limit of $3,000.

"We were fairly certain that parents could help their children in any pursuit they want," Lloyd Levine said Friday at his headquarters in a Van Nuys shopping center. "If we do find out that was incorrect, then we will correct that."

A spokesman for the Fair Political Practices Commission said Cherny's complaint has been received but declined further comment.

Both Democrats have built their campaigns around education and public safety. To those issues, Levine has added improving access to health care and Cherny easing the area's traffic.

On education, Levine said he would like to add counselors on campuses, reduce class sizes and involve teachers more in discussions of reform.

If elected, Cherny said the first bill he would sponsor would require high school students to perform community service to graduate. He said he is also a big fan of charter schools as a way to give parents more control.

"It shouldn't just be the wealthy and rich who are able to make decisions about their children's education," he said.

On the question of secession--whether the Valley should form its own city separate from Los Angeles--Levine, like his father, opposes the idea in its current form.

"I think there's a segment of the people who ... expect that they'll wake up in the morning and all of a sudden the traffic on the freeways will be gone, and we all know that's not the case," Levine said. "The political equivalent of 'I'm going to take my ball and go home' really isn't going to work."

But voters should have the final word, Levine said.

"As an opponent of secession, I think the best way to stop it is to put it on the ballot and let the people vote it down," he said.

Despite garnering endorsements from some of secession's biggest advocates and advising their group, Cherny said he, too, opposes the secession plan but still favors putting the issue on the ballot.

"If the voters do vote for it, I will respect their wish and work to make it work," he said.

As the latest in a stream of young legislative aides seeking to slip into seats vacated because of term limits, Cherny and Levine have both been collecting endorsements from lawmakers and interest groups. But they are still developing the techniques of veteran politicians. They don't dole out hugs like Hertzberg and they don't seem entirely comfortable approaching people for their vote.

But then, again, these are not Old Boys. Levine last faced voters when he was in middle school and running for student council. And the most recent contest Cherny won involved downing a pint of chocolate ice cream.

Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.

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