Russell, Wachs Line Up Behind Stevenson : Council’s Continuing Power Struggle Becomes Factor in District Race
The perennial struggle for power within the Los Angeles City Council became a factor Thursday in the race between Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson and challenger Michael Woo in the 13th District.
Council President Pat Russell and Councilman Joel Wachs, two former adversaries, joined forces at a press conference to endorse Stevenson and to attack two other council members, Marvin Braude and Zev Yaroslavsky. The two councilmen shook up the council last week by publicly endorsing Stevenson’s opponent in the race in the district, which includes Hollywood and part of the hill area.
More than a decade has passed since the last time a member of the council openly opposed the reelection of a colleague.
The recent rash of endorsements for Woo and then for Stevenson has prompted talk by council members and aides, who have asked to remain anonymous, that the campaign is serving a variety of political agendas, including Russell’s, whose term as council president expires June 30.
Russell, who is expected to seek another term, would need a majority of the 15 council votes. Most council members say they do not believe that she is in danger. But they do not discount the possibility of a revolt led by Yaroslavsky and Braude, who are unhappy with Russell’s leadership. Yaroslavsky has criticized her support of real estate developments, particularly in his district, and Braude was angry over her strong backing of Occidental Petroleum Corp.'s successful bid to drill for oil in the Palisades area of his district.
By endorsing Stevenson in a close race, Russell can be relatively sure of Stevenson’s support in a fight over the council presidency--provided, of course, that Stevenson wins.
Sources close to the council said that Russell saw the Yaroslavsky-Braude endorsement of Woo as a potential threat to her own political future. That is why, they said, she moved to counter it by going to bat for Stevenson.
Essentially, the fear is that Braude and Yaroslavsky might build a new alliance, including Woo, that could topple Russell, or, at least, push her to be more responsive to their wishes.
Braude and Yaroslavsky insisted that they endorsed Woo because they had come to regard Stevenson as a pawn of real estate lobbyists.
“We did what we did,” Yaroslavsky said, “because we are both disturbed by the extent to which special interests and lobbyists have taken over the decision-making process at City Hall, and she (Stevenson) happens to be a major offender in allowing that trend to take hold.”
Asked at the press conference whether the issue of the council presidency had anything to do with the Stevenson endorsement, Russell said she did not care to discuss the matter with people outside the council.
Russell said she is supporting Stevenson because she is a woman and because she has been a “pioneer” on important issues such as gay rights.
“I value her as one of the four women on the council,” Russell said. “One of the issues of this campaign is that we want to gain more women and not lose them.”
At the same time, Russell and Wachs accused Yaroslavsky and Braude of ulterior motives in supporting Woo.
Sees Race for Mayor
“Zev wants to be mayor,” Wachs said. “He is supporting Mike Woo to help him win the Asian vote.”
Wachs has been Stevenson’s closest friend and ally on the council. Indeed, Stevenson left the Russell camp in 1981 to support Wachs’ successful campaign for the council presidency.
But the bitter feelings stirred by that campaign were nowhere in evidence Thursday as Wachs and Russell offered similar criticisms of Braude and Yaroslavsky.
Said Russell: “I think he (Yaroslavsky) wants to align himself with the forces that Woo represents.” She declined to elaborate.
Regarding Braude, Wachs would say only that “there are other political motives that will reveal themselves over the next two or three weeks.”
Denial by Braude
Sources close to both councilmen said that Wachs was referring to speculation that Braude intended to run for council president. Braude said that he had been asked on the council floor whether he intended to run and said he did not.
“A few days ago (Councilman) Dave Cunningham asked me if I was a candidate for president,” Braude said. “I laughed and said ‘certainly not.’ ”
Both Braude and Yaroslavsky insisted that there is far more political risk than gain in openly opposing a colleague who has friends and influence on the council.
“It is inconceivable that this would endear us to anyone, with the possible exception of Mike Woo,” Yaroslavsky said.