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43rd District Nomination Would Virtually Guarantee Election, Future Success : Democrats Scramble for ‘Crown Jewel of Assembly Seats’

Times Staff Writer

When it comes to political springboards, it’s hard to find a place much bouncier than the 43rd Assembly District.

Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) represented it from 1973 to 1983, nearly became Assembly Speaker and now sits in Congress. Gray Davis (D-Los Angeles), former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.'s chief of staff, succeeded Berman. In just two terms, he amassed more than $1 million in campaign funds, enough to make him the man to beat in the state controller’s race.

Now, voters will decide who mounts the springboard next. At stake is one of the most prized seats in the Assembly, a chance to represent a Democratic stronghold that takes in the affluent and influential communities of Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Bel-Air, Westwood, Encino, Sherman Oaks and Studio City. In political prominence and money-raising ability, the 43rd District representative is easily the equal of many state senators or California congressmen.

‘The Crown Jewel’

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“It’s the crown jewel of Assembly seats,” said Davis, who has raised more campaign money than anyone other than Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. “Your constituency almost compels you to distinguish yourself in the Legislature. . . . You have the opportunity to tap into a seemingly endless reservoir of talent and good will.”

Three candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination in the June 3 primary, with the winner almost assured of election in November. Public interest lawyer Terry B. Friedman has the backing of the powerful political organization headed by Berman and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), and is widely viewed as the favorite.

His opponents are Bruce Margolin, a West Hollywood lawyer who serves as a local coordinator of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Rosemary D. Woodlock, a Woodland Hills attorney and businesswoman.

Since last month, when Davis unexpectedly dropped out of the 43rd District race to run for controller (because of veteran Controller Kenneth Cory’s announcement a day before the candidates’ filing deadline that he would retire), the campaign has mostly focused on Friedman and the Berman-Waxman organization’s role in promoting his election.

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Qualifications Challenged

Margolin and Woodlock have repeatedly charged that the Berman-Waxman organization conspired to discourage competition by anointing Friedman before Davis’ withdrawal was publicized. They have also challenged Friedman’s residence qualifications. Noting that Friedman moved into the district in February, Woodlock labeled him a “carpetbagger” and unsuccessfully sued to have him thrown out of the race.

Friedman, 36, is director of Bet Tzedek Legal Services, a $1.6-million-a-year agency financed mostly by area Jewish charities to provide free legal advice to the poor, elderly and disabled. Friedman rejects the carpetbagger accusation, pointing out that he lived across the street from the district for years and moved less than a mile--from one Westwood apartment to another--to become a 43rd District resident.

Glad to Be Endorsed

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He is also unapologetic about his ties to Berman-Waxman. Friedman called himself fortunate to have received the endorsement, which came as a result of his longstanding friendship with the group’s leaders and his eight-year tenure as a public interest advocate. And he flatly dismissed criticism of the organization that is known for running aggressive, well-financed campaigns.

The Berman-Waxman endorsement is considered extremely important in the 43rd District, and not just because of the financial support that accompanies it. The liberal, mostly Jewish political organization has built considerable trust and credibility with Westside and San Fernando Valley liberals over the years, and the 43rd district--also liberal and largely Jewish in population--is in the heart of the organization’s home turf. Thanks in large part to the Berman-Waxman support, Friedman has already raised $130,000--far more than his competitors--and expects to spend as much as $300,000 to win the seat.

Interest in Mountains

Friedman said his No. 1 goal in the Assembly would be protecting the Santa Monica Mountains from development. The owlish attorney said he is also committed to protecting the rights of the elderly and disabled, controlling toxic waste and rebuilding the state’s public education system.

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Friedman said he will spend most of the next month meeting the voters.

“A lot of my support has come because I’m perceived to be the best possible candidate,” Friedman said. “Now the perception is that my chances for election are very good. I certainly hope that’s true. But I don’t take this race for granted. . . . I will spend a lot of time seeking support.”

Bruce Margolin, 44, was the Democratic nominee in the 57th Assembly District in 1970 and almost defeated Republican Assemblyman Charles Conrad. In 1982 he briefly challenged Burt M. Margolin (no relation) for the neighboring 45th Assembly District seat. Bruce Margolin dropped out of that race about two months before the election, and Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles) won.

Education Targeted

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Bruce Margolin said improving public education is his primary goal in the 43rd District race. Other major concerns, he said, are safer streets, clean air and clean water. Margolin said he expects to run a grass-roots race, and he has already posted dozens of blue-and-orange campaign signs in the district.

“Win or lose, I want to look back on this race and know I did something constructive by speaking out on issues that are of genuine concern,” Margolin said. “I’m proud to be running with these people as opponents.”

Woodlock has also been a serious contender for public office in the past. The 40-year-old lawyer was backed by the Democratic Party in an unsuccessful 1984 bid to unseat Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, a Republican. In 1980, she was the Democratic nominee for the 19th District state Senate seat. Ed Davis (R-Valencia) defeated her by a 2-1 ratio.

Struck Some Sparks

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Woodlock has generated the most sparks in the 43rd District campaign. In addition to filing the lawsuit against Friedman, she has bitterly criticized the Berman-Waxman organization for its endorsement and has maintained that a San Fernando Valley resident should hold the seat because more of the district’s voters live there. Woodlock’s major goal is improving transportation. She also supports better child-care services and preservation of the Santa Monica Mountains.

“We all know what the major issues are,” said Woodlock, who is promoting herself as the most experienced and knowledgeable candidate. “It’s just a matter of candidates understanding what you can and can’t do.”

Voter attention so far in the primary campaign has been on the Democratic contest, for the simple reason that whoever wins the nomination will be the overwhelming favorite for election. The most recent figures show that 56% of the district’s registered voters are Democrats and 34% are Republican, with the remaining 10% either registered as independents or with minor parties.

GOP Candidates

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Despite the long odds, two candidates are seeking the Republican nomination.

Marc Philip Schuyler, a 21-year-old Caltech student, is the Los Angeles County chairman of Young Americans for Freedom. Schuyler, who lives in Tarzana, describes himself as a conservative. He said he is a strong supporter of Gov. George Deukmejian and President Reagan, and he favors cutting taxes.

The other Republican is Lou Steeg, 71, a retired Sherman Oaks businessman and Naval Reserve commander who is affiliated with arch-conservative Lyndon LaRouche. Steeg said he would like to alert voters to national and world political conditions, and he would fight to stop illegal drug use.

John Honigsfeld, 44, an aerospace computer programmer from West Hollywood, is the Peace and Freedom Party candidate. Honigsfeld said he favors tougher rent controls and free health care. He said he would also seek to sever ties between the state’s universities and the military.

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