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Poll Takes Steam Out of Tight Race for Valley Mayor

October 17, 2002|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

With the election less than three weeks away, candidates for mayor of a proposed San Fernando Valley city are struggling to capture the voters' attention, and some say the fading prospects of secession itself will make it difficult for them to raise money and enlist volunteers for the homestretch.

A new Los Angeles Times Poll found that more than two-thirds of likely Valley voters were still undecided about which of the 10 mayoral candidates to support. Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge) led the field, with the backing of just 13% of those surveyed.

And while the poll results gave hope to the other candidates that the election is anyone's to win, they also were seen as a grim indication that voters have little interest in the race, perhaps because the Valley mayor's office will not exist if secession loses.

The Times Poll found Valley secession was losing by a 2-1 margin citywide and trailing narrowly in the Valley. To win, the Nov. 5 breakup measure must receive a majority of the votes in the Valley and Los Angeles as a whole.

"I'm losing confidence," said mayoral candidate Leonard Shapiro. "This thing will win big in the Valley, but it will lose in the whole city."

The lackluster nature of the mayoral campaign was apparent Wednesday when only five candidates showed up for a forum at the Woodland Hills Chamber of Commerce, and most of the audience left before they spoke.

One of the candidates at the forum, insurance adjuster David Hernandez Jr., who placed second in the poll with the support of 5% of likely voters, tried to put a positive spin on the campaign.

"All of a sudden, people are realizing that the most significant thing since water in the San Fernando Valley is about to take place in 20 days," said Hernandez, who is simultaneously campaigning for a seat in Congress. "The sense of urgency and the pace has really picked up. I think you'll have a lot more informed voters as we get closer."

Competing for a job that would pay $12,000 annually, the candidates have stumped across the Valley, and some are preparing to air commercials on local cable television and radio stations in the next week.

"This race is wide open," said Mel Wilson, a Realtor who placed fifth in the poll, with 2%, despite endorsements from the Southern California Assn. of Realtors and other organizations. Wilson had raised $45,000 for the campaign, second to Richman's $127,000.

"Fund-raising for this campaign, although I feel I'm doing well, has been difficult compared to other campaigns," Richman said. "Candidates are attempting to raise money for a position that may not be in existence."

The mayoral campaigns also have been hampered by the failure of the central secession drive to generate the money, television advertising, volunteers and public excitement that it originally promised, said Tom Hogen-Esch, a political scientist at Cal State Northridge.

"All of the candidates are really dependent on the synergy of the overall secession campaign to generate interest and help get their message out," Hogen-Esch said. "If that campaign is dead in the water, as it has been, those candidates have virtually no way of getting their message out."

While Richman has sent out hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail, only Bruce Boyer, an alarm company manager, has a TV commercial airing -- on cable television in the East Valley.

"If Richman only gets 13%, that's fine with me," said Boyer, who got 1% in the poll. "I figure the winner will need 25% to win, and I'm the only one on television."

Richman, a former city redevelopment commissioner, and Wilson, a former city fire commissioner and Metropolitan Transportation Agency board member, plan to begin running spots on Valley cable stations next week.

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Times staff writer Massie Ritsch contributed to this story.

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