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11th District Race Is Hard to Ignore

One hopeful hands out phony $1-million bills; another campaigns with a wooden pushcart.

October 30, 2002|George Ramos | Times Staff Writer

On a recent morning at the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop on Van Nuys Boulevard, nearly all the patrons said the San Fernando Valley should break away from the city of Los Angeles.

"Of course," exclaimed Julia Simmons, 27, of Van Nuys, echoing the prevailing view. "I'm tired of getting our chain yanked by downtown L.A. It's time we become our own city."

"Yeah, it's time," agreed her friend, Tom Morris, 26, of Canoga Park.

But when it came to ticking off the names of the four candidates running for a Van Nuys seat on the proposed Valley city council, or even identifying the issues debated in the 11th district campaign, none of those queried at the doughnut shop could do it.

"Sorry," Morris shrugged.

That's the problem facing the four men who hope to represent the 11th district: Many residents don't seem to be paying attention to the campaign.

The district, which is mostly east of the San Diego Freeway, is a largely Latino, working-class area of apartment dwellers.

No Latino is seeking the seat, but the four candidates are diverse in ways that leave some voters shaking their heads in amazement. One candidate, "Jamie" Cordaro, hands out phony $1-million bills to illustrate the point that the tax revenues the Valley contributes to Los Angeles should be spent locally. Another, Hal Netkin, has built a wooden pushcart that he uses to pass out campaign literature and carry water so voters can have a "drink" with him.

A third candidate refuses to use the word "secession" because it conjures up the Civil War. Noel DeGaetano prefers the word "detachment."

And the fourth hopeful, TV and movie executive John Quinn, has made videos for Playboy.

The winning candidate will take office if voters approve Valley secession.

The four agree that the city has not done enough to revitalize Van Nuys Boulevard, the district's main thoroughfare, where some deteriorating buildings have been vacant since the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

The city of Los Angeles "has failed miserably to help us," said Cordaro, 46, who may be the best-known entry. He finished third, with just under 10% of the vote, in last year's primary to replace Joel Wachs on the Los Angeles City Council. Wendy Greuel eventually won the seat.

"We ought to be spending money within our own borders," said Cordaro, an electrical contractor whose mock $1-million bills bear his picture.

Quinn, 54, whose film credits include 1995's "Goldy: The Magic of the Golden Bear" and 1987's "Cheerleader Champ," says Van Nuys Boulevard's revitalization is "the first thing I would work on."

"It's the heart of the Valley," said Quinn, who has volunteered for Guide Dogs of America, the American Red Cross and the Sierra Club.

DeGaetano, a 59-year-old Realtor, is a low-key campaigner who says "detachment" is the opposite of the process Los Angeles used to annex the Valley in 1915.

"We're not the Confederacy," he said. "The people on the other side of the [Santa Monica] mountains aren't the enemy. We have to work with them."

DeGaetano, a Republican, lost a 1994 Assembly race to then-incumbent Democrat Barbara Friedman in the 40th District.

Netkin, 66, is campaigning on quality-of-life issues. On a recent afternoon, he proudly showed off the cart he was building to carry literature and a water cooler.

Netkin, who speaks Spanish, rails against day laborers and unlicensed street vendors on Van Nuys Boulevard. He says the vendors might be selling contaminated food, and the laborers cause traffic problems and give the boulevard a shabby look.

Reminded that his wife was once an illegal immigrant from Mexico, like many of the vendors and laborers, Netkin had a ready answer. "You think I'm a hypocrite? But I'm not," he said. "I'm not against those people. I'm against the politicians, who let that stuff go on."

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