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Hope at Heart of Contest Coziness

Secession: Hollywood council candidates see mutual admiration as best way to reach common goal, cityhood.

September 06, 2002|NITA LELYVELD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On a recent weeknight, Gene La Pietra stood at a podium in his Hollywood Independence headquarters and offered his opponents for a Hollywood city council seat strategic advice along with free use of his paid staff, a dozen or so phones lining one wall of the room, research data to help them target voters, even a dummy press kit to copy word for word.

The nightclub owner, who has spent $1 million to almost single-handedly fund the Hollywood secession movement, makes no bones about wanting to win the most votes on Nov. 5.

But in the strange world of secession politics, La Pietra is not trying to crush the competition--he's training it to succeed.

A group-hug method of campaigning is seen by Hollywood secessionists as practical and efficient.

The 21 candidates for the five at-large council seats are, after all, crucial foot soldiers in the battle to persuade voters to support Hollywood independence. If secession fails, and there is no independent Hollywood, there will be no Hollywood city council.

The eclectic roster of candidates also helps broaden the secession pitch's appeal.

For a long time, the Hollywood movement seemed hardly bigger than La Pietra himself. The money and direction still come from him and his inner circle. But although most of the candidates come from outside that circle, they can take the campaign into neighborhoods where before they had little entree, giving the secession effort a more genuine grass-roots feel.

As five candidates sat engrossed before him, La Pietra stretched out his arms.

"There are people here who are dying to help you, just dying to," La Pietra told the fellow candidates.

The council election and a similar one in the San Fernando Valley will occur on the same day voters across Los Angeles decide whether to allow the two areas to secede.

The Valley campaigns, however, are more conventional and on a larger scale, with candidates going head-to-head in 14 proposed Valley council districts and a mayor's race.

In Hollywood, the atmosphere is beyond cozy. Running for a seat on a city council that may never exist in a city that may never exist is unusual enough.

But when candidates for the same seats pose for pictures at events with their arms around one another's shoulders, and can't stop extolling one another's best qualities, an already odd campaign verges on the surreal.

At the candidate-training session, La Pietra, who has never held elective office but ran for a West Hollywood City Council seat in 1986, offered suggestions on what to say to voters and how to say it.

He advised brevity.

"You're a stranger. You have three seconds. They really don't know what your message is. You could be selling Amway for all they care," he said.

Then he told them what to say: that the model for an independent Hollywood is its spruced-up and shinier neighbor, West Hollywood.

La Pietra's generosity with advice could help him. He wants to be the first mayor of a new Hollywood, and a grateful council would be more likely to pick him from its ranks for the post.

Four candidates besides La Pietra are members of the board of Hollywood VOTE, the organization La Pietra founded to get Hollywood secession on the ballot.

Others saw the relatively small scale of a Hollywood campaign--encompassing a 15-square-mile area with about 185,000 people--as a way to break into politics, and one that is less intimidating and less expensive than fighting for a Los Angeles City Council seat.

"Here, $10,000. To get elected in the city, that costs maybe $10 million," said candidate Pashree "Super Pat" Sripipat, who publishes Pacific Rim News, a bilingual Thai-English newspaper.

She wants to be the first Thai-elected official in the Los Angeles area.

Sripipat's candidacy is already getting a lot of attention from Hollywood Thais, who number about 7,000, she said.

"To tell you the truth, my community, they are shocked right now," said the 55-year-old mother of three, whose newspaper is full of secession campaign articles and photos of herself and the other candidates.

"First of all, Thai community candidate. Then Thai female," she said.

Sripipat said she hopes to be the voice of Hollywood minorities. Her focus, she says, is getting the homeless off the streets and into shelters and helping prostitutes find other ways to make a living.

A few miles east, at his Sunset Boulevard flower shop, Garry Sinanian, a 25-year-old Armenian American, said he, too, wants to clean up Hollywood. Sinanian says he's sick of feeling threatened by the prostitutes and drug dealers standing outside his shop when he arrives in the pre-dawn hours.

He also wants to represent Armenians, as he makes clear in a campaign poster that depicts a glowing vision of the area that Los Angeles designated Little Armenia.

His poster is complete with flowers, palm trees and a grand gateway that eliminates the blue city signs Los Angeles provided.

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