A bitter and costly Republican primary battle between Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando and the son of Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana has shaken the usually tranquil 51st Assembly District.
Felando, a San Pedro Republican, has let it be known in Sacramento that he faces a "very tough" challenge from Deane Dana III for the solidly GOP South Bay district that stretches from Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach through Torrance to the exclusive communities of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
With substantial financial assistance from his father, the younger Dana has bombarded Republican households with campaign mailers every week for more than two months.
Many of the mailers have attacked Felando for being out of touch with the voters in the district of largely affluent, well-educated voters.
Short of campaign money, Felando has yet to respond to the battery of Dana mail pieces. The mailings, which Felando says are misleading, describe the incumbent as anti-environment, pro-offshore oil drilling and slow to move on clean-up of toxic wastes.
Rather than fire back early, Felando plans to mount a last-minute counterattack that will question Dana's qualifications for office and the fact that he was registered to vote in both Los Angeles and Orange counties from 1981 to 1983. Dana claims he never voted in Orange County, although he was registered there.
Felando also is expected to make an issue of the elder Dana's use of campaign funds against a fellow Republican.
And he plans to stress his own Assembly record during the last 10 years. Felando was first elected in 1978 in an upset over Assemblyman Vincent Thomas (D-San Pedro), who had represented the adjacent 52nd District for 38 years.
After reapportionment, Felando was elected to the 51st District post in 1982, defeating GOP Assemblywoman Marilyn Ryan (R-Rancho Palos Verdes) in a hard-fought Republican primary that June.
This time, Felando, 53, will buttress his conservative credentials with endorsements from Gov. George Deukmejian, Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach) and state Sen. Robert G. Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach).
Last fall, Felando prepared to run for the 42nd congressional district seat given up by Lungren, who is seeking the state treasurer's post. At that time, Dana moved from Sacramento back to Hermosa Beach and laid the groundwork for the Assembly race.
Dropped Out of Race
But Felando suddenly dropped out of the congressional contest in February, citing concerns about the potential impact of cross-country commuting on his family. Dana was the only Republican candidate who refused to withdraw from the Assembly race.
Dana, 35, who served as assistant director of the state Department of Aging in the Deukmejian Administration for the last four years, has been campaigning against Felando ever since.
Campaign signs and billboards for Dana quickly appeared throughout the South Bay. Although paid for by the supervisor's campaign committee, the orange and black signs made no mention of what office Dana was running for and drew no distinction between father and son of the same name. The two Danas will appear on the same primary ballot--the supervisor running for reelection and the son for the Assembly seat.
City Action Sought
The generic Dana signs so angered Felando that he called on the Torrance city attorney in February to demand that the signs be taken down.
And in an unusual twist, Dana has accused Felando of having a "cozy relationship" with the Legislature's most powerful liberal Democrat, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.
For weeks, Dana has hammered away at the incumbent, armed with quotes from a newspaper story in which Felando said he would not join with a handful of dissident Assembly Democrats, known as the "Gang of Five," in a move to oust the San Francisco Democrat from the speakership he has held for 7 1/2 years.
"I would support Willie," Felando said in a January article in The Times. "I think he's been an excellent Speaker. When Willie tells you something, you can take it to the bank. If there is somebody better, show me. And I don't think there is."
In an apparent effort to blunt Dana's attacks, Felando joined this month in two attempts to replace Brown with Assembly Minority Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale, but both efforts failed, as expected. After the first move against Brown, Felando issued a press release declaring that "wild campaign allegations about propping up Willie Brown just got swept away."
But the next week in Oakland, Felando raised an estimated $5,000 for his reelection campaign at an event in his honor hosted by one of the Legislature's most liberal Democrats and a Brown ally, Assemblyman Elihu Harris.
Dana called it "absolutely unbelievable" that Felando would raise money at a fund-raiser organized by "one of Willie Brown's cronies." And he pledged that his first act as an assemblyman would be to introduce a motion to oust Brown from the speakership.
Felando defended the fund-raiser, saying he needed to raise money. "Do you think that I've got a daddy with $1 million (in his campaign war chest) standing behind me?" Felando asked. Besides, the Oakland fund-raiser was "set up before the Willie Brown situation ever became an issue," Felando said.
History of Conflict
There has been bad blood between Felando and the Danas since the June, 1986, primary, when Felando and his longtime campaign consultant, Allan Hoffenblum, sent a last-minute mailer that implied that Supervisor Dana's allies on the 51st Assembly District Republican Central Committee were tied to extremist Lyndon LaRouche.
In the mailer, Felando warned voters that a "dangerous extremist" was "trying to gain a foothold right here in the 51st Assembly District."
The mailer cost four committee members, including one of Dana's closest deputies, their positions.
Felando said at the time that "he wanted to get people on (the Central Committee) who I know will support my ideals and philosophy."
Upset at the mailer's impact, Supervisor Dana said after the committee election: "I can't in my wildest imagination understand why Jerry would put his name on something like that. Why would he stoop so low?"
Personal Rift Denied
The elder Dana denied that any personal rift with Felando sparked the primary challenge. He noted that his son didn't start campaigning until "Felando told me personally and said publicly that he was seeking Lungren's seat."
To help his son, Dana said he has loaned "a few hundred thousand" to the Assembly campaign.
That large a contribution in a race against a Republican lawmaker has raised eyebrows and divided Republican ranks. Supervisor Mike Antonovich, breaking with Dana, his Republican colleague on the Board of Supervisors, has endorsed Felando in the Assembly race.
Meanwhile, at campaign events throughout the South Bay, Deane Dana III reminds audiences that Felando "invited" him into the Assembly race when he set his sights on Congress last fall. "I took him up on that offer," Dana said.