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Council Winners, With No City to Lead, Look to Reforms

November 07, 2002|Kristina Sauerwein | Times Staff Writer

With election night circles under their eyes, the winners of the San Fernando Valley mayoral and city council races stumbled out of bed for a Wednesday morning news conference, raised their hands locked in victory and vowed to reform local government.

The problem is that the offices the candidates won don't exist.

It was a risk Valley and Hollywood candidates accepted when they campaigned to lead imagined cities that failed to materialize when voters rejected the two secession measures on Tuesday's ballot.

In the Valley, the top vote-getters for the mayoral and 14 council seats saw their hopes of taking the oath evaporate, even though slightly more than half the voters in the proposed city supported the breakaway bid.

Secession in both areas required a citywide majority to carry.

"This morning I got a call from a council member in West Hollywood, and he called me 'councilman,' " said Scott Svonkin, one of about a dozen candidates at the news conference at the Radisson Hotel in Sherman Oaks. "But technically, I'm not."

Nor is Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge) the mayor of the proposed Valley city, though he soundly defeated nine contenders for the post. On Wednesday, secessionists were calling Richman "Mr. Mayor."

"I ran to make a difference," Richman said after the news conference. "The status quo is not OK."

Richman, who was reelected Tuesday to his 38th District Assembly seat, said that over the next few days he plans to discuss the Valley's needs with Los Angeles City Council members and the candidates who would have represented a new city.

He would also like to sit down with his almost-counterpart, Mayor James K. Hahn.

"I'm disappointed [secession] failed," said Richman, who raised $200,000 for his mayoral campaign. "But this is an occasion where a majority of the people in the Valley voted for a new city. It's not just an obligation to serve them, but it's a privilege. It's truly an honor."

The election results might also allow the-mayor-that-wasn't to be honored.

"He'll get to be in all the parades," quipped Richman's younger brother, Craig Richman, a prosecutor in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Others predicted Richman's victory will be more than symbolic, and will allow him to play a significant role in city politics.

"We would look to him as a leader," said Gary Thomas, chairman of the Republican Coalition of the San Fernando Valley.

Campaign strategist Mitchell Englander said he and Richman have discussed roles that a mayor of the nonexistent Valley city could play. "He becomes spokesman for the Valley ... a voice and face for the Valley ... to work with the leadership of the city of Los Angeles on issues that the Valley cares about," Englander said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us."

As the top council vote-getter for the vanquished Hollywood city, which voters rejected by a wide margin, Rosa Martinez pledged Wednesday that she too will hound Hahn to pay more attention to one of the world's most famous communities.

Nightclub owner Gene La Pietra, who bankrolled the Hollywood secession movement, also won one of the five at-large council seats, finishing second. It was an expensive victory: La Pietra spent about $2.5 million of his own money. "I'm proud of the campaign we ran," La Pietra said.

Other Hollywood council winners were simply stunned.

"Apparently, I've been elected to an office that doesn't exist," said C. Edward Dilkes, an attorney who finished fourth in the Hollywood balloting.

Former Assemblywoman Paula Boland overwhelmingly won the seat in the Valley's 3rd district, which included parts of West Hills, Winnetka, Canoga Park, Porter Ranch and Chatsworth. She plans to run in the March election to replace L.A. Councilman Hal Bernson.

"I feel there was a mandate tonight," Boland said late Tuesday as returns rolled in. "People want my voice. They want to bring that voice to City Hall."

Boland sponsored a 1996 Assembly bill that would have set the stage for a breakaway initiative. It died in the state Senate, but a compromise version was approved the following year.

She said of her phantom council seat: "It's kind of like being a king without a kingdom."


Times staff writers Sharon Bernstein, Caitlin Liu and Stephanie Stassel contributed to this report.

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