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SUPERVISORIAL ELECTION / REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK : 2 Candidates Use Sign Language to Stake Out Molina’s East Side Turf

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is a little-discussed fact of political campaigning that the brightly colored signs placed by candidates in front yards and on telephone poles have virtually no effect on the decisions voters make.

But a forest of signs appeared last week on the East Side of Los Angeles touting state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) and Sarah Flores, former aide to Supervisor Pete Schabarum. They are running in the special election Jan. 22 for county supervisor in the 1st District.

“These signs are the dumbest expenditure I have ever seen,” said veteran campaign consultant Richard Ross, who is working for another candidate, state Sen. Charles M. Calderon (D-Whittier), and is buying no lawn signs. “They are spending money in a sweaty panic.”

Flores’ people said they spent $26,000 on signs knowing that they “will not really alter how people vote.” But they hope to demoralize City Councilwoman Gloria Molina’s campaign workers by studding her turf with somebody else’s name.

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Torres’ camp allowed only a few days to pass before posting his signs next to virtually every Flores sign. Was it also to demoralize Molina?

“It’s almost like marking our territory or something,” said Torres spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers. “I don’t think it’s a big vote-getter. . . . But maybe people will see some lawn signs and say hey, there must be a campaign going on here.”

For several months now, there’s been a deep rift between Schabarum and his former longtime aide Flores, who is running for his job.

Last spring, when Schabarum decided to leave the political seat he had held for years, he threw his support to a Superior Court judge and attacked Flores in the acerbic style for which he is noted, remarking: “Sarah does not have the educational background . . . the organizational talents . . . nor the personal skills that are simply required to fill this job.”

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Flores’ campaign managers say Schabarum’s comments “actually helped Sarah” finish first in the June primary race for his seat, an election since invalidated by the courts.

Schabarum’s comments are still smarting, apparently. At Flores’ home in Glendora recently, her relatives showed off her trophy room--a comfortable den where the framed plaques and parchment commendations she received while working for Schabarum are proudly displayed.

Strangely, none of the commendations displayed on the walls mentions Schabarum. Flores’ relatives say the candidate does have a pile of plaques and letters that also thank the lame-duck supervisor.

They are kept in a cupboard in the laundry room.

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Automobile insurance was the subject of a recent debate between the 1st District supervisorial candidates. It is an issue over which Californians are very angry, but over which the Board of Supervisors has no say.

Nevertheless, the event sponsored by a group of insurance agents drew all four major candidates seeking to become the first Latino county supervisor this century.

Molina admitted that she found it odd to be speaking about auto insurance--a state issue. But, she said, she receives many invitations to events that don’t seem to have anything to do with the office she holds or is seeking.

Of the insurance agents who sponsored the discussion, she said: “They sort of pressure you, saying the other candidates are coming and this is an important issue to your voters. . . .

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“The other thing they did,” she added, “is they called the press and (then) said the press will be here.”

A three-man band was wailing away at “Mirasol,” a slow rumba, when Flores brought her campaign to the cafeteria of the Fairmount Terrace Senior Apartments in Boyle Heights.

Almost immediately, 73-year-old Jaime Ramon Carlos took her by the hand and began to dance, deftly wrapping an arm around her waist and slowing spinning her around a couple of times for good measure.

Afterward, Carlos was asked what he thought of the candidate:

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“She’s got a good sense of rhythm. . . . What’s her name?”

More problems followed for the 53-year-old candidate. She addressed the gathering of about 40 seniors, speaking at length in English and Spanish about her concerns for the elderly. Then came the first question.

“What are you running for?”

Flores politely explained, throwing in a brief description of the duties of a county supervisor.

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She took a second question:

“What’s your name?”

Times staff writers Rich Simon and Hector Tobar contributed to this story.


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