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Local Elections : Unknowns Bear Much for Almost Sure Defeat at Polls

Times Staff Writers

One man lived on Skid Row for two days to promote his City Council campaign. Another delivered a bottle of vodka to Ronald Reagan’s new Bel-Air home and offered to keep the tour buses off the former President’s street.

They are among the little-known, underfunded challengers to six Los Angeles City Council members, Mayor Tom Bradley and Controller Rick Tuttle in the April 11 election.

Because they are short of money, they spend long hours standing in front of supermarkets and walking precincts, enduring bad weather and unfriendly dogs. For this privilege, they gathered 500 voters’ signatures and paid a $300 filing fee, or, to avoid the fee, collected 1,000 signatures.

The unknowns range from those who run their campaigns as if they were street theater to men and women who offer serious critiques of municipal problems.

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Most famous in the street theater category is Eileen Anderson, Los Angeles’ most durable perennial candidate, rivaling Bradley in the number of times she has run for mayor. No longer dancing in green tights in front of the downtown Los Angeles Federal Building, Anderson, now older and more sedate, sings “Danny Boy” in appearances for her current run against Bradley--her 15th political campaign.

Perennial candidate or lightly regarded first-timer, they all use unorthodox methods to get attention.

‘Do Anything’

“I’ll do anything as long as it doesn’t cost me money,” said Barry Gribs, challenging Councilman Ernani Bernardi in the East San Fernando Valley’s 7th District. “I don’t want to throw away thousands of dollars on a campaign that I’m not sure I will win.” Ron Rich, opposing Councilwoman Joy Picus in the West San Fernando Valley’s 3rd District, has converted his family’s 30-foot motor home into a mobile campaign headquarters decked out with American flags and hand-made campaign signs.

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Venus De Milo, a former stripper running against Councilman Michael Woo in the Hollywood area, said her name attracts attention. Her campaign literature features a photo that is 20 years old. “I just take horrible photos,” explained the 49-year-old De Milo, who once went by the name Miss Bareless. “And it still looks like me. I haven’t changed.”

Vendor Mort Diamond, also running against Picus, gave away 150 hot dogs.

Political consultant Jack McGrath, a write-in candidate challenging City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, is another street theater candidate. In the early going, McGrath personally welcomed former President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, to the district in which their Bel-Air home is located, with a gift package that included Russian vodka and pine saplings.

In keeping with her old profession, former shoeshiner Zahrina Machadah, 59, decided to forgo a fancy campaign brochure and instead invest in three pairs of walking shoes for her campaign for Woo’s job. “They all have holes in them,” she said. “They look like Adlai Stevenson’s.”

Holes in Shoes

The late Stevenson was caught with a hole in his shoe in a famous photograph from his 1952 presidential campaign.

One of Yaroslavsky’s opponents, Ryan Snyder, a Westside transportation consultant, already has worn out a lot of shoe leather.

Snyder, who spent seven months pounding the pavement, left the starting gate so early that many voters assumed his name was appearing on last November’s ballot.

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Why are these unknowns risking the snubs of the apathetic, facing the high probability of overwhelming defeat?

Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Baxter Ward said he was inspired to run for mayor by a comment Bradley made after losing to George Deukmejian in the 1986 gubernatorial race. “He said being mayor is a great job,” Ward said.

Diamond said he ran after listening to his customers complain as they bought hot dogs.

“I consider my running for office to be part of my ministry,” said the Rev. Jules S. Bagneris III, a challenger to Bernardi.

“It’s all about feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and setting the captives free. Here in the San Fernando Valley, we’ve been held captives to landfills and to inappropriate uses.”

Paul McKellips, a business executive opposing Picus, is concerned about the homeless.

He decided to learn about the homeless--and get a little attention for his campaign. So, he took off his three-piece suit and, with Bible in hand and a bullet-proof vest under his old clothes, lived on Skid Row for 48 hours.

During his first night of living on the streets, he was threatened by a man with a knife. He escaped uninjured.

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“It’s one thing to sit here in my nice comfortable home with a pool in my back yard and think of homeless people and it’s another thing to experience it firsthand,” McKellips said.

The challengers said they are not tilting at windmills. History, however, is not on their side.

Only three times in the last 12 years has a Los Angeles city incumbent failed to win reelection. Incumbents are difficult to defeat because they are usually better known than their challengers and have access to large amounts of contributions.

But the challengers said they are encouraged by the successes of three other one-time political newcomers--Ruth Galanter, Picus and Michael Woo--who defeated incumbents. In all three cases, however, the incumbents had angered large numbers of constituents. And the winners each had promising political bases before the campaigns began.

That chance of victory, however unlikely, apparently makes all the trouble worthwhile. And these unknown candidates have plenty of trouble.

Diamond has learned that running for the City Council is not any easier than hawking hot dogs on a street corner.

First, he got a ticket for an illegal “Mort Diamond for City Council” sign on his truck; he fought the ticket in court and won. Then, he was invited to speak before a Woodland Hills Republican club. He showed up but wasn’t permitted to talk because he is a Democrat.

Bernardi challenger Al Dib said he worries about dogs.

“When you come to a house where there is a large fence, sometimes you hesitate going in,” Dib said. “You don’t know if there are dogs in there. I always gamble and go in, but you never know if there is a big dog sitting on the doorway. It’s scary.”

Jo Ann Wysocki, the only candidate on the ballot opposing Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores in the 15th District, which includes the harbor communities, said the toughest part of the race has been watching Flores campaign from City Hall while Wysocki teaches elementary school every day.

“I’ve learned that only the incumbent is paid by the taxpayers to run for office,” Wysocki said. “Our system discriminates against those who work.”

Times staff writer Alan Citron contributed to this story.


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