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Voting Guide

10 Seek Job That May Amount to Nothing

Diverse field of Valley mayoral candidates is fighting over a post that would pay little and won't exist unless secession is approved.

October 27, 2002|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

The 10 candidates for San Fernando Valley mayor have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars running for an office that would pay only $12,000 a year and won't even exist if voters reject secession on Nov. 5.

Mostly unknown and inexperienced, the candidates have carried a double burden: communicating their own vision for the Valley to voters who have shown little interest, and promoting Valley cityhood itself.

Getting their message out to 1.3 million Valley residents has been difficult. Even the better-funded candidates have little money for the campaign. They say prospective financial backers have been frightened off by the fact that the winner of the mayor's race won't have an office to hold unless voters approve secession.

"It's certainly an uphill battle, but we are all working hard out there to bring the truth to the voters," said Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge), the best-financed candidate and only elected official in the race. He had raised $127,000 as of Sept. 30.

Despite polls showing Valley secession faces long odds, Richman and some of the other candidates have developed detailed plans for improving police and fire protection, cutting business taxes, streamlining bureaucracy, solving problems and reforming the school system.

Their specific proposals range from expanding the police force by hundreds of officers -- something they all agree on -- to providing universal health care for Valley children and Internet service for all Valley residents.

The field of candidates is almost as diverse as the Valley. It includes two Latinos, an African American and a Filipino American.

The overarching theme of the mayoral campaigns is that Los Angeles is too big and that it has not given the Valley a fair share of services. Only a Valley city, with its own mayor and city council, can make things right, the candidates say.

The campaign had been free of fireworks until recently, when Richman came under attack for simultaneously seeking reelection to the state Assembly. Richman has said he will give up his Assembly seat if secession wins and he is elected mayor.

A Times poll this month indicated that Richman, a 48-year-old physician, was the front-runner but that the race was wide open. Richman was ahead with just 13% support from likely voters, the poll found. Two-thirds of the voters had not decided which candidate to back.

Richman has a five-point plan for a Valley city that includes more police hiring and creation of a boroughs system.

"Public safety is the No. 1 concern on people's minds," said Richman, who would start off by expanding the police force in the Valley by 30%, or 500 officers.

Richman also would set up seven boroughs in the Valley, each of which would elect five commissioners to make local decisions. If secession passes, the Valley would also have a 14-member City Council.

Among the other mayoral candidates, only Mel Wilson has much of a public profile. The 49-year-old Northridge resident is past president of the Valley Board of Realtors and current general manager of the Woodland Hills and Calabasas offices of Re/Max, the realty firm.

A former pro football player, Wilson has also served on the city Fire Commission and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board.

Wilson, who was second in fund-raising, with $45,000 as of the beginning of this month, said one of his top priorities as mayor would be to lobby Sacramento to create a Valley school district.

"Only 55% of our kids are graduating from the LAUSD. That's not acceptable. That's a tragedy," Wilson said.

He also wants to make sure there are two paramedics on each shift in each Valley fire station. Shifts in some stations now have one or no paramedics, he said.

As a Democrat, Wilson says he is more in tune with the Valley, where Democrats hold an edge in voter registration, than is Richman, a Republican. The mayor's office would be nonpartisan.

Benito "Benny" Bernal is the candidate who wants a Valley city to provide health care to an estimated 4,000 uninsured children.

Children ages 6 to 12 would be eligible for the health program, says Bernal, 38, of Mission Hills. He also wants the city to provide preschool programs for all 4-year-olds.

"It would provide an opportunity to educate and prepare kids so they are ready for kindergarten," Bernal said.

Marc Strassman, 54, an Internet consultant from Valley Village, proposes the Internet service for all residents as a way to get them involved in city government. He says residents should cast votes via the Web on critical matters before the city.

Strassman also favors a "green" approach to government. "Instead of running out of water and space and clean air, we should use solar energy and recycling and telecommuting so we have a sustainable economy," he said.

Candidate David Hernandez, 54, says a Valley city should take over Van Nuys Airport from Los Angeles. He also intends to focus on setting up an efficient city government.

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