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Scrambling : Beilenson Challenger Breaks a Few Eggs

Times Staff Writer

Cable television viewers in the Westside and the San Fernando Valley sections of Los Angeles are being treated to a rather startling sight this month. A man making omelets is asking voters to send him to Congress.

The man is John Vernon, better known to affluent party-goers as the “Omelet King.” The well-known caterer is the Libertarian candidate for the 23rd District congressional seat this year.

Vernon, a longtime Libertarian who ran for lieutenant governor in 1982, said he is fed up with the “liberal spending policies” of Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Tarzana). He is soliciting campaign donations from other Libertarians nationwide and said he expects to raise $40,000 before the Nov. 8 election.

Much of the money will go to pay for cable television commercials that show Vernon in his natural habitat--making omelets over a propane burner--as he cracks eggs with words such as Deficit and Foreign Meddling printed on the shells.

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Vernon, 48, said the idea came to him as he was going to sleep one night.

“I was told that I needed a symbol,” he recalled of the “Break the Habit” commercial. “And I thought to myself, ‘Why not use what you are?’ ”

Vernon said he sees no conflict between catering for wealthy Democratic and Republican clients and running against the candidates they support. The Van Nuys resident, who caters about 200 Westside and Valley-area parties every year, said his political activities have cost him only one customer so far.

“I could lose more business because of my positions, because people take their politics very seriously,” Vernon said. “But that’s just the way it is.”

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Vernon hopes, however, that it will be his opponents who end up with egg on their faces. Besides Beilenson, he’s scrambling to beat foreign trade consultant Jim Salomon, a Republican, and computer programmer John Honigsfeld of the Peace and Freedom Party.

Although Libertarians rarely win elections and Beilenson is a formidable foe, Vernon said he takes the race seriously. In a widely distributed flyer, Vernon pledges to cut the deficit by withdrawing military aid to wealthy foreign countries and by supporting a balanced-budget amendment.

Vernon also favors an amendment that would allow voters to rescind acts of Congress. By calling for less government and less taxes, Vernon is toeing the Libertarian Party line. But he argues that the ideas also appeal to major party voters in the district, which includes Tarzana, Woodland Hills, Encino, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Malibu.

“I regard the Libertarian Party as the wave of the future,” said Vernon, who joined it in Oklahoma City in 1973. “I don’t necessarily think that we have all the answers. But I do believe our principles are correct.”

Oddly enough, Vernon might never have ended up in politics if it weren’t for his omelet business. The lanky caterer became known as the Omelet King in 1971, when he worked at a food booth at an Oklahoma City art festival.

The omelets were so popular--Vernon made 3,000 in six days--that he decided to go into the food business full time. But when he tried to open his own restaurant, he was frustrated by the number of government restrictions.

“I ran across all sorts of obstructions,” Vernon said. “And I realized that some were pretty irrational. A great deal of government regulation keeps the poor down. . . . It’s a real impediment to people getting ahead.”

Vernon, a former Republican, joined the Libertarian Party two years later and ran as its candidate for the City Council in Oklahoma City in 1975, placing last. When he moved his catering business to Los Angeles in 1977, Vernon remained active.

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He was the party’s candidate for lieutenant governor in 1982, coming in third behind Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy and Republican Carol Hallett with 1.5% of the vote. After that election, Vernon said he decided to take a break.

“I didn’t run for anything in 1984 and 1986,” he said. “I decided I would not run in another race where there was no chance that I would win.”

Meanwhile, his catering business was flourishing. Vernon, who dresses in a tuxedo and flips the omelets by hand after party-goers choose their ingredients, said the “Omelet King” idea proved surprisingly popular.

And although he now supervises a fairly large staff and occasionally caters as many as five parties a day, Vernon said he discovered this year that he is still drawn to politics. Vernon said it’s not Beilenson personally, but all “big-spending” Democratic and Republican politicians who get his dander up.

“The chief objective of the major parties is job security,” Vernon said. “There’s no guiding principle to anything they do.”

Despite his feelings, Vernon said he never discusses politics on the job. Even his telephone answering machine tells callers to dial one number if they’re attempting to reach John Vernon the Omelet King and another number if they are calling John Vernon the Libertarian congressional candidate.

After all, he isn’t looking to cook up any trouble. He would much rather be known as a good egg.

“I’m there to provide a service,” the Omelet King said. “Not to talk about politics.”

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