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Valley Mayoral Foes Attack Richman

Leader in the cityhood race is assailed for simultaneously running for Assembly reelection.

October 23, 2002|Patrick McGreevy and Nita Lelyveld | Times Staff Writers

Tensions surfaced in the San Fernando Valley mayor's race Tuesday, as apparent front-runner Keith Richman came under attack by other candidates for his business practices, Republican party affiliation and the fact that he is simultaneously seeking reelection to the Assembly.

The contenders on the Nov. 5 secession ballot squared off in a debate that quickly focused on Richman, who was leading his nine opponents in a recent Times poll and has a similar advantage in fund-raising.

Richman hit back after Mel Wilson questioned the Northridge lawmaker's commitment to the mayoral race given his decision to also run for a second Assembly term. The Valley mayor's office will exist only if secession wins. Richman has said he would quit the Assembly to serve as mayor.

"I'm extremely disappointed that any of the candidates who are working hard for a Valley city would get down in the gutter and sling mud," Richman said after the debate, which was taped for showing on the Adelphia cable system.

Wilson, a Woodland Hills Realtor and Democrat, also made an issue of Richman's Republican affiliation. Democrats have an edge in Valley voter registration.

"If you want this city to be a good city, do you want a Democrat and a businessman running it, or do you want a Republican?" Wilson asked.

Candidate Marc Strassman, a Valley Village Internet consultant, said a medical group co-owned by Richman failed to make timely payments to health care providers .

He cited a February story in The Times that said state records indicated Lakeside Medical Group did not make the payments on time.

Strassman noted that the same story reported that Richman was co-author of a bill that proposed a review system under which companies such as his could challenge health maintenance organization contracts.

"The pattern here is one of looking out for himself and his friends, and I think we can do better," Strassman said.

Richman called the charge of withholding payments to health providers "ridiculous."

"I think I have been a leader in providing health care to the uninsured in California and I don't think the health plans would call me their friend," Richman added.

He said he cleared all his legislation with state ethics officials to make sure there were no conflicts of interest.

Most of the candidates pledged to reduce business taxes and improve public safety as their priorities.

Benito "Benny" Bernal, a union organizer and educator from Mission Hills, said he would bolster gang-prevention programs and school reforms. Journalist Leonard Shapiro of Reseda proposed regular audits to make sure city departments are efficient.

Henry Divina, a retired Chatsworth accountant, said he would work to improve basic city services. Jim Summers, a Realtor associate from Granada Hills, said he would toughen laws on campaign finance and land development.

"I'm finding our neighborhoods are changing for the worse because certain special interests downtown are influencing our decision-makers," Summers said.

Bruce Boyer, an alarm company manager from Reseda, said he is the only candidate who would challenge a requirement that a Valley city make separation payments to Los Angeles, starting at $127 million the first year.

David Hernandez, an insurance adjuster from Valley Village, said Los Angeles has squandered federal funds on downtown development -- money the Valley needs.

Gregory Roberts, a North Hollywood-area activist, did not attend Tuesday's event.

As the Valley candidates debated, Mayor James K. Hahn told two Hollywood gatherings that the city has committed millions of dollars to improving that area's business district and increasing its stock of affordable housing.

"There's only one threat to all of this great progress that I've been talking about on the horizon, and that's the threat that we might break up this great city," Hahn said.

He spoke of city-subsidized projects such as the Hollywood & Highland mall and an upcoming housing and retail development at Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street. He also mentioned the city's $100-million housing trust and its plan to build 500 units of affordable housing in Hollywood during the next three years.

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