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Secessionists' Strategy Team Quits

Breakup: Some blame lack of funds for loss of consultants six weeks before election. Valley, Hollywood campaigns are taken by surprise.

September 26, 2002|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With six weeks to go before election day, the consulting firm that has been guiding the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood secession movements said Wednesday that it is quitting the campaign, a move that sources linked to the breakup drive's failure to pay its bills.

The resignation of Sacramento-based Goddard Claussen Porter Novelli came a day after the secession drive got a boost by landing the endorsement of the influential Valley Industry and Commerce Assn.

But the departure of the consulting group adds to the secession effort's mounting problems. It now approaches the homestretch of the campaign without a consultant and without money for significant advertising--and it faces an opponent that has both.

"Goddard Claussen has resigned from both the Valley and Hollywood independence campaigns," firm partner Rick Claussen said in a statement. "We have left the door open for scenarios where Goddard Claussen might assist the campaign with specific assignments. We wish the campaign all the best and a victory in November."

Claussen declined to elaborate. Sources familiar with the campaign, however, said a major factor in the firm's decision was that the Valley Independence Committee owed Goddard Claussen about $100,000 in fees, and was not raising enough money to run an effective campaign.

"The fund-raising fell far short of expectations to run the kind of campaign that needs to be run," one source said.

Another source said Goddard Claussen felt the Valley campaign should have been sending out mailers and running television ads by now, but the lack of money delayed those efforts.

Richard Katz, the Valley Independence Committee co-chairman, said it owed the firm only about $25,000. He was surprised to learn from a reporter that the campaign firm had resigned, but he downplayed the loss.

"Campaigns go through different stages and [Goddard Claussen] had done a lot of their work," Katz said, noting the firm had completed a media strategy plan.

"We have everything we need," Katz said. "We were talking about keeping them on. But I don't think it's a very big deal at all."

Katz did concede that the secession campaign is "underfunded." The Valley committee reported in July that it had raised $75,000, of which $50,000 came from Hollywood secession leader Gene La Pietra. Secession leaders originally predicted they would raise between $4 million and $5 million.

In comparison, Mayor James K. Hahn's anti-secession campaign reported $2 million raised in July and now has more than $3 million.

The Valley and Hollywood secession proposals are on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Valley mayoral candidate Mel Wilson called Wednesday's development bad news. "I'm glad I'm not dependent on [the Valley Independence Committee] for my campaign," said Wilson, a Democrat.

In Hollywood, La Pietra also was caught off guard.

"You've got to be kidding," he said when told by a reporter of the Goddard Claussen announcement.

However, La Pietra said the Hollywood campaign had not used the company much since August, as it brought on its own campaign manager and media consulting team. "It's not disappointing to us because we've got our own campaign team," La Pietra said.

According to sources within the Hollywood campaign, Hollywood secessionists essentially stopped paying a share of the fees to Goddard Claussen in July for budget reasons, choosing instead to hire their own staff for public relations.

The hiring of Goddard Claussen was announced with great fanfare in April. But signs of discord were present from the beginning.

In an incident shortly after the firm was hired, Gerry Gunster, who was assigned by the firm to manage the Valley campaign, was confronted by secession activists about why the campaign was not doing more.

At the time, Gunster said he had a secret plan that he did not want to discuss in front of the public.

"We learned one thing: They were able to keep their plan secret," said Kam Kuwata, an advisor to Hahn. "Because the people of Los Angeles haven't seen it."

Republican political consultant Arnie Steinberg, who has advised the secessionists, said he had long predicted that Goddard Claussen would quit. Steinberg said the firm failed to take advantage of early momentum to push the campaign forward.

"It really leaves them in the lurch," Steinberg said. "It really shows what can happen to good, well-meaning authentic grass-roots people who make a bad choice....

"The reason there's no money is that there was no campaign put together," Steinberg said. "Within a matter of weeks, [Goddard Claussen] lost the confidence of volunteers, activists and donors."

Secession opponents also said the resignation could be a crippling setback.

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