On the air

Walter Moore, who is running for mayor of Los Angeles, is somewhere between a minor candidate and major candidate, one observer says. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / February 24, 2009)

It's Tuesday night and Walter Moore, candidate for Los Angeles mayor, is on the air and taking calls.

Ripping the record of the current officeholder, Antonio Villaraigosa, consumes a major chunk of his hour with KABC-AM's John Phillips.

"Ask yourself, how would the city be different if it were expressly run by developers, gangs and the nation of Mexico? You'd be hard pressed to come up with any policy changes," Moore tells listeners.

The often caustic world of L.A. talk radio, which has never been friendly for the mayor, has become a comfort zone for Moore's long-shot campaign to unseat Villaraigosa, the former Assembly speaker and city councilman with almost 14 times the money and the political muscle to match.

Moore tosses out his rote campaign lines accusing Villaraigosa of coddling gang members, bankrupting L.A. and turning it into a Third World city.

Moore, in turn, has been accused of stoking racial animosity for political gain, using the slaying of an African American high school football star last year to rail against illegal immigrants.

What is clear is that Moore, a 49-year-old business attorney from Carthay Circle, has escaped the netherworld of political unknowns running against Villaraigosa to become his strongest opponent in Tuesday's primary election.

Nowhere is his emergence more obvious than in the money race. Moore has collected $208,000 in campaign contributions, far shy of Villaraigosa's $2.9 million but far ahead of the $4,400 raised by the next closest challenger.

"This is not one of those cases of the incumbent versus several Lilliputians," said Raphael Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton. "Moore is somewhere between a minor candidate and major candidate. If someone's going to have a splash, it's going to be him . . . but it's not nearly enough to unseat the mayor."

Sonenshein said one of Moore's primary issues, illegal immigration, has the greatest sway with conservative white voters, whose share of the Los Angeles electorate has steadily dwindled. Still, Sonenshein expects Moore's supporters to be more motivated to vote in what is expected to be a low-turnout election. He also believes Moore will pick up votes from those disenchanted with Villaraigosa or city government.

In his first foray into politics, Moore ran for mayor in 2005, finishing sixth with 2.7% of the votes. Moore said he is aiming so high because it is the only elective post that can have a significant and immediate impact on life in Los Angeles.

"I'm not in this to have a political career. Running for mayor is a means to the end of fixing the city," Moore said.

Moore launched his second mayoral campaign in early 2007, but it wasn't until the slaying of Los Angeles High School football player Jamiel Shaw II in spring 2008 that he began to draw significant attention.

Shaw, 17, was gunned down, allegedly by a gang member who was in the country illegally. Within weeks Moore proposed "Jamiel's Law," a city ballot initiative to allow Los Angeles police officers, in cooperation with federal authorities, "to identify, arrest, deport and/or prosecute and imprison" known gang members who are in the country illegally, even if they are not accused of another crime.

Moore said the measure would have clarified the LAPD's controversial Special Order 40, which states that "officers shall not initiate police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person."

Moore pitched the idea without first contacting Shaw's family.

"We actually heard about it on the radio. We weren't happy with that," said Althea Shaw, Jamiel's aunt, who immediately called Moore to complain. "We just asked him, why he didn't talk with us, and why he didn't try to call us? He basically said that he just didn't know how to talk to someone who went through a grieving process."

Moore eventually won the family over, she said, and the Shaws quickly joined the bid to gather enough petition signatures to place Jamiel's Law on the city's May 2009 ballot. The effort fell short.

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton strongly opposed Jamiel's Law, as did many members of City Council, saying officers already have the authority to report known gang members who committed crimes to federal immigration authorities.