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Jack Weiss' 36% showing in L.A. city attorney race surprises political experts

March 05, 2009|Maeve Reston

The morning after he was forced into a runoff election for city attorney, City Councilman Jack Weiss said his first-place finish gave him a "flattering feeling."

But outside City Hall, a number of political experts were surprised by Weiss' 36% showing citywide -- given that he began running long before the other candidates, spent $1.7 million and had a nearly 2-to-1 cash advantage over his runoff opponent, Harbor City defense attorney Carmen "Nuch" Trutanich.

"It's a blow -- there's no way around that. He had the most money, the most mailers and definitely the most TV time," said Jaime A. Regalado, executive director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. "For someone with this kind of name recognition, the backing of the mayor and police chief, to not break 40% means he's seriously wounded."

Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political science professor at Cal State Fullerton, said Weiss ended up in the "red zone." Although Weiss may get more undivided attention from his ally, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and more help from supporters in labor and the Democratic Party, Sonenshein predicted "a very, very tough runoff."

What was not in dispute Wednesday was that both Weiss and Trutanich were preparing for a bare-knuckled contest over the next two months. Weiss' financial advantage has been erased and both must start fundraising anew.

The Trutanich campaign argued that the 5th District councilman's showing on his Westide home turf -- where 63% of voters cast ballots for other candidates -- showed discontent with Weiss' leadership and his handling of development issues. Trutanich's campaign consultant John Shallman tried to spin the votes for other candidates as votes against Weiss -- a characterization Weiss' consultant, Ace Smith, called "absurd."

"He tried to create the perception that [the city attorney's race] was a coronation," Shallman said. "This was, to a great extent, a referendum on Jack in his district and he was soundly rejected."

Weiss' campaign said the chances of avoiding a runoff were always slim in a race where two other candidates advertised on television. Trutanich spent at least $905,600; another candidate, Deputy City Atty. Michael Amerian, spent nearly $400,000.

"We're happy to be exactly where we are," Smith said. "We are poised to win this thing."

Weiss wasted no time Wednesday outlining the case he will make in his campaign, tearing into Trutanich for representing clients accused of environmental crimes. He also faulted him for teaming with law firm partner C.D. Michel, who represents the National Rifle Assn.

Michel has sent a series of letters to Weiss' office challenging some of the city's gun control laws, several of which were proposed by Weiss.

"It's the inescapable fact of this race that it pits a candidate with a strong pro-gun-control, pro-environmental record against a candidate whose firm represents the NRA and who represents polluters," said Weiss, a federal prosecutor for six years before he was elected to the City Council.

In turn, Trutanich, who says he has never personally represented the NRA and has promised to uphold city gun laws, touted his endorsements from L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and Sheriff Lee Baca.

"The choice for voters is very simple," Trutanich said. "They can have an independent, experienced gang prosecutor endorsed by the D.A., sheriff and virtually every police organization, or an absentee politician like council member Jack Weiss who missed a third of his council meetings in order to chase down campaign donors and photo ops."

With the contours of the race shaping up, Sonenshein said, both men "need to make the other the issue."

--

maeve.reston@latimes.com

Doug Smith and David Zahniser contributed to this report.

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