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LOS ANGELES ELECTIONS

Hertzberg Gets a Lift From Gov.

While not taking sides in the mayoral campaign, Schwarzenegger backs the candidate's proposal to break up the L.A. Unified School District.

February 26, 2005|Matea Gold and Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writers

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared with Bob Hertzberg on Friday to endorse the Los Angeles mayoral candidate's plan for education reform, giving Hertzberg a televised boost as he struggles to keep pace with two better-funded rivals in the campaign's final stretch.

In a hastily arranged event at Schwarzenegger's Santa Monica office, the governor -- who already had expressed generalized support for Hertzberg's proposal to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District -- held a private, 20-minute meeting with the former state Assembly speaker.

At a news conference afterward, the governor did not endorse Hertzberg, a longtime friend; instead, he reiterated his intention to stay out of the mayor's race. But cameras snapped pictures of the two men together as Schwarzenegger praised Hertzberg's breakup plan.

"I think that Bob knows I don't get involved with the mayor's race," the governor said, standing in a courtyard outside his Main Street office. "I think it would be wrong for me to do. But Bob and I have been friends, and I have asked him many times for ... advice, and I am more than happy to also work with him and the education idea he has."

By appearing with the high-profile governor, a very popular figure among Republicans, Hertzberg hoped to bolster his standing with conservative voters. Conservatives have been a key target in the mayor's race for Hertzberg, one of five major Democratic candidates in a field with no well-known Republican.

The impact of the public session was unclear -- Democrats make up most of the city's voters, and recent polls show them souring on Schwarzenegger -- but it came at a key juncture for Hertzberg.

After spending a large chunk of his finances on an early round of television advertising, the former assemblyman has succeeded in advancing into the top tier of candidates vying for the mayor's office. But, with the election 10 days away, he has found himself with limited resources to close the sale.

Media strategists said he will be outspent at least 2 to 1 on television by Mayor James K. Hahn and Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa before the March 8 election, potentially overwhelming Hertzberg's ability to communicate just as voters begin to tune into the campaign.

"It's like these NBA games, where the first three quarters are essentially meaningless and everything happens at the end of the fourth quarter," said political strategist Chris Lehane, a former consultant to Councilman Bernard C. Parks, another mayoral candidate. "Usually who wins depends on who has the biggest guns."

Many political analysts view the race, at present, as a three-way contest among Hahn, Hertzberg and Villaraigosa for the two spots in the May run-off. Of the three, Hertzberg is in the weakest financial position.

The former Assembly speaker had $779,000 on hand as of Feb. 19, and hadn't yet purchased advertising for the final two weeks of the campaign. Meanwhile, Hahn and Villaraigosa each had $1.1 million remaining -- and the mayor already had bought his television time through election day. Parks was running even with Hertzberg in a Los Angeles Times poll last month, but had less than half as much money left as the Sherman Oaks lawyer.

Friday's joint appearance with the governor was aimed at getting Hertzberg more airtime -- for free.The two men reportedly met two decades ago through a mutual friend, Gale Anne Hurd, who attended high school with Hertzberg and later produced the first "Terminator" movie, which made Schwarzenegger an international star.

A few days after his 2003 election, Schwarzenegger appointed Hertzberg to a 67-member transition team that also included Hahn and a few other Democrats. Later, Schwarzenegger relied on Hertzberg for advice about policy, the state budget and the workings of the Capitol, and at one point considered tapping him as chief of staff.

The governor promised Hahn last year that he would not take sides in the mayor's race, but he has given Education Secretary Richard Riordan tacit approval to campaign vigorously for Hertzberg, according to a person familiar with the administration's strategy. A campaign mailer featuring Schwarzenegger and Hertzberg is expected to hit mailboxes next week.

During their brief news conference Friday, Schwarzenegger called Hertzberg's plan "terrific" and said he "absolutely" supports breaking up the school district.

"It does not work the way it is right now, and I think it's very important that we make smaller districts and pay much more attention to individual children," the governor said.

A beaming Hertzberg, who clapped Schwarzenegger on the shoulder several times, said, "This is what leadership is about."

"This is what Jim Hahn should be doing, taking the leadership, just as Gov. Schwarzenegger is doing in fighting for our kids," he added.

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