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Deputies' Union Aims to Unseat Supervisor Burke

Labor leaders plan to spend as much as $1 million to oppose an L.A. County official who they say isn't supporting public safety.

October 22, 2003|Daren Briscoe | Times Staff Writer

The union representing Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies said Tuesday that it would try to unseat Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke in her upcoming bid for reelection, charging that she has shown insufficient support for law enforcement and public safety.

The union made its plans public outside a Santa Ana courtroom after a contempt-of-court hearing for 17 deputies accused of participating in a sickout to register their dissatisfaction over pay and health benefits, currently being negotiated in contentious talks with the county.

Roy Burns, president of the 8,500-member Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said the organization had begun amassing a war chest and would spend as much as $1 million to oppose Burke, who represents the county's 2nd Supervisorial District, in the March elections. If that tactic fails, Burns said, the union would begin a signature-gathering drive to recall Burke.

"One way or another, we expect to recall Yvonne Burke," Burns said.

If the union fields a candidate to oppose Burke, it will be the first time the former congresswoman faces opposition since her election to the county Board of Supervisors in 1992.

When asked about the union's plans, Burke defended her public-safety record and said that the union had "been trying to get someone to run against me for a year" because she opposes a plan promoted by union officials that would allow deputies retiring at age 50 to collect a yearly pension of 3% of their salary for every year served on the force.

"That would mean if you started at 20 and retired at 50, you'd get 90% of your salary," Burke said. "The county would go bankrupt if we did that."

Burns said that the union also was unhappy with Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina, who, like Burke, are Democrats.

But he said the union would focus its immediate efforts on opposing Burke because she is up for reelection in March, along with Republican Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe.

To raise money for the upcoming battle, the union has raised the amount it collects from members' paychecks from $1 per pay period to $6, with plans to support another candidate "to the extent the law allows," Burns said. He said the union would seek support from other county unions and plans to blanket Burke's district with deputies carrying the union's message.

Burns said the union had supported Burke in the past, but now feels she has lost touch with important issues.

"We don't know if it's her separation from the people she represents or her length of time in office, but she's forgotten public safety," Burns said. "She's part of a board that has taken millions out of our pockets."

Some political observers expressed surprise that the union would take on a county supervisor, a position that is seen as relatively sheltered from the political winds that periodically sweep other public officials from office.

It has been nearly 24 years since an incumbent Los Angeles County supervisor was unseated by a challenger, a feat last accomplished by Antonovich when he defeated two-term Supervisor Baxter Ward in 1980.

Tom Layton, the union's political endorsement chairman, said that kind of job security breeds complacency among the supervisors.

"With no serious challengers, they start to feel like they can do whatever they please," Layton said.

Political consultant Joe Cerrell, who has known Burke for decades, said that her political savvy and connections would make her a formidable opponent.

"There are members of the U.S. Senate that have smaller constituencies than a county supervisor," Cerrell said. "If it came down to it, she'd have unlimited funds, from members of the Senate to local school boards."

As if to prove Cerrell's point, Burke responded to the union's announcement by calling Sheriff Lee Baca, who promptly agreed to be co-chairman of her reelection campaign.

"I told her, 'You have a record you can be proud of.' " Baca said. "I'm proud of her record and I support her as a leader for the Sheriff's Department. I think everything stems from this labor contract issue. If there wasn't this frustration regarding the lack of a contract, I don't think any of this would be going on."

Times staff writer Jean Guccione contributed to this report.

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