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Judge Raps City Clerk, Puts Activist on Ballot : Approves Candidacy in Council Race After Studying Disputed Signatures

Times Staff Writer

A Superior Court judge, criticizing the Los Angeles city clerk’s office for its handling of signatures on nominating petitions, on Monday ordered the clerk to add activist Bennett Kayser’s name to the April 11 municipal primary ballot.

After reviewing dozens of disputed signatures, Judge Kurt J. Lewin ruled that Kayser qualified for the ballot with 493 valid signatures instead of the required 500 signatures. That is because the clerk’s office erred by distributing an incorrect map of the 13th Council District’s boundaries. “Four-hundred-ninety-three is enough,” the judge said. “We can get on with the election.”

The effect of Kayser’s entry into the race, where three other, largely unknown challengers are trying to unseat Councilman Michael Woo, is unclear. In 1985, the year that Woo beat then-incumbent Peggy Stevenson, Kayser also ran and finished fifth in the primary with about 1% of the vote.

Assistant City Atty. Anthony Saul Alperin agreed that “the map is in error” but objected to the court’s reviewing the city clerk’s determination about the validity of voter signatures. Alperin had no comment on the judge’s decision but said the city will not appeal.

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Earlier, Alperin had said that Kayser’s court case seeking a place on the ballot was costing the taxpayers thousands of dollars by delaying the printing of sample ballots.

Attorneys for Kayser said their client, relying on the erroneous map supplied by the clerk, collected signatures of at least nine registered voters who live inside the boundaries shown on the map but actually do not live in the district.

Kayser, a former president of the influential Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns., said of the ruling: “I can stop worrying about voter signatures and begin the campaign.”

Charging that Woo has been unresponsive to community concerns about growth and traffic problems in the district, which includes Hollywood, Los Feliz and parts of Sherman Oaks, Silver Lake and Echo Park, Kayser now has another cause: election reform.

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He said it is unfair that City Council candidates in Los Angeles must collect the signatures of 500 registered voters while it takes only 40 to 60 signatures to run for the Legislature and just 65 to 100 signatures to run for governor or the U.S. Senate.

In his ruling, the judge criticized Kayser for being lax and showing “very poor planning” by submitting only 598 signatures and not bringing suit earlier.

But the judge took aim at the clerk’s office for “an error in judgment” in not accepting signatures ultimately found to be valid on Kayser’s nominating petitions.

Initially, the clerk’s office had held that only 401 of the 598 signatures on Kayser’s petitions were valid.

In a review of contested signatures that lasted much of the day, the judge overturned the city’s decision to invalidate signatures in cases where women had married and changed their names but not their voter registration, where a voter listed his or her address as a post office box, and where the date signed by a voter on the petition was incorrect.


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