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Just in Case, Breakup Foe Runs for Office

October 27, 2002|Sharon Bernstein | Times Staff Writer

If the San Fernando Valley becomes an independent municipality, Tamara Trank wants to represent Northridge and Granada Hills on its city council.

The petite 35-year-old has studied the issues, printed up fliers and lawn signs, and taken part in community discussions and debates.

There's just one catch.

She's against secession.

Which ordinarily would make it a little harder to sell her candidacy.

But this is no ordinary campaign. This is the colorful, perhaps quixotic crusade to slice the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood out of the city of Los Angeles.

In this campaign, where 122 people are running for 20 offices in two cities that might never exist, there are candidates who don't believe in raising money, candidates who refuse to reveal their ages and candidates -- all but two of them, actually -- with no experience in elective office.

One Hollywood candidate -- Angelyne -- is a billboard model, and another, Gene La Pietra, is a nightclub owner whose heavy bankroll has nearly single-handedly kept the city's secession effort rolling.

In the Valley races, there is one candidate, Marc Strassman, who touts Internet-democracy that would allow voters to weigh in on every decision made by the city council. Another, Wayne "T-Bear" Crochet, is mounting a write-in campaign. There are even one or two besides Trank who oppose secession.

Trank is a Navy Reserve lieutenant who holds a doctorate in physiological science, plays the trumpet and helps run a drum-and-bugle corps for teenagers -- and she is greeted warmly on the stump. Some residents even say they've already voted for her picking her name out of the list of candidates on their absentee ballots.

On a recent warm evening, Trank was standing in the middle of a residential block in the Sherwood Forest neighborhood of Northridge and working up the nerve to knock on someone's door, when Dave White pulled up in a silver Ford Explorer.

Trank, dressed in pink pants and a pink sweater, sidled up to the car and introduced herself. But when she got to the part about not supporting Measure F, the Valley secession proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot, White seemed a little confused.

"So are you guys voting for Valley secession or not?" he asked Trank and her husband, Ted Haulley.

"I'm not," Trank replied.

She explained that she might support a future breakup proposal -- and never considered joining the campaign against this one -- but that she has problems with the current plan. She worries that the new city will have financial and organizational problems.

She's running for office, she said, to be in place to help fix those problems should the secession measure pass.

Asked whether he could support such a candidate, White was polite. "I'm not sure," he said. "I'm a big believer in it."

Next stop is the home of Don Voorheis. He's more sure.

"I'm a strong Republican and I want to get out of the city of L.A. as fast as possible," he said. "I can't understand how someone who is running for a Valley city council is against secession."

Trank is used to this.

"Did he cuss me out?" she asked, after a reporter went back to ask Voorheis a question. But she pressed on.

Stefan Banescu agreed that the new city could face rough going in the beginning. But he said he's voting for secession anyway -- and promised to vote for Trank despite her reservations. He even agreed to put a Trank for Council sign on his lawn.

"I think the city should have its own chance," Banescu said.

Some residents, Trank learned, had already voted by absentee ballot. They picked from among the mostly unknown candidates on the basis of such information as occupations listed on the ballot.

"Your name sounds familiar," said Kelly Luna. "I think I voted for you."

Trank says voters have told her that she's won a few absentee votes just based on her career, which she listed as "physiologist/military officer." A liberal, she reckons that the military label has made her the choice of a few conservatives who may not know much about the candidates.

Among those who do know who the candidates are is Margie Oldenkamp.

"I remember you," she said as Trank stood in her doorway. "You're the one who says you're not for secession but if secession wins you want to represent us."

A strong secession supporter herself, Oldenkamp asked if Trank has any literature. "I have to admire you for even running, and for walking around the neighborhood," she said.

The evening goes on this way, the precinct walking stymied a little by the fact that so many houses have security gates, and a bit random because the couple is working without their map showing where frequent voters live. Haulley explains that the map is in a computer program that wouldn't open.

They wind up on a residential block of White Oak Avenue, where neighbors like Pat Losurdo worry that the city will open up the street to more traffic. Losurdo, a musician with a truck that says "Captain Cardiac and the Coronaries" in big red letters on the side, said he didn't hold Trank's opposition to secession against her, and agreed to post a lawn sign -- which his wife later nixed.

"As long as you're going to be working for us, I don't have a problem with it," said Losurdo, who plans to vote for secession. "If I like somebody, I'll vote for them. And I like you already."

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