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ELECTIONS : LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCIL : Galanter Skips Debates; Her Foes Make It an Issue

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When a consultant to Ruth Galanter snatched her nameplate off the dais last week at a candidates’ forum in Venice that the Los Angeles city councilwoman did not attend, the aide inadvertently spotlighted a key complaint about Galanter’s reelection campaign: Why won’t she regularly debate her opponents?

Galanter’s challengers charge that she is insulting voters by boycotting the same kind of community forums that four years ago helped catapult her from the ranks of grass-roots candidates to victory over then-City Council President Pat Russell.

Galanter’s aides deny that she is snubbing the voters, citing schedule conflicts and council duties as reasons for her absences.

Galanter has thus far attended two of 10 forums. She has declined invitations from groups such as the Marina del Rey and Westchester chambers of commerce.

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At least two more forums are scheduled before the April 9 council primary, in which Galanter hopes to capture more than 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff. She has not committed to attend any of the remaining events.

The issue of Galanter’s skirting the debates arose even before the start of last week’s forum, where her six challengers gathered for a televised give-and-take organized by the Venice Action Committee, a business-oriented activist group, and sponsored by 15 other organizations. Among them was the League of Women Voters, which provided a moderator for the event.

Galanter was in Venice, doing a solo turn at the Venice-Mar Vista Democratic Club. She said she had accepted that invitation before receiving notice of the candidates’ forum.

But her campaign consultant, Steven Glazer, was at the forum to check out the competition, and wound up drawing attention to the very issue of Galanter’s absence.

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Just before the debate was to begin, Glazer grabbed Galanter’s nameplate from the table where the other candidates were sitting, just after he had hand-delivered to them a call by Galanter for a fair mail campaign pledge (a proposal that her foes quickly rejected).

Glazer was in turn grabbed by challenger Salvatore Grammatico, who with the other opponents and forum organizers demanded that Glazer return the nameplate, which he had dropped into his briefcase.

While Glazer insisted that the presence of an empty chair and Galanter’s nameplate broke debate rules, Venice Action Committee President Jack Hoffman suggested that his true motive was to try to downplay Galanter’s absence.

Faced with a growing conflict and a reporter taking notes, Glazer ultimately relinquished the sign. “No comment,” he said the next day when asked about the incident.

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But Galanter’s challengers had many comments about her absence during the debate. Indeed, challenger Mary Lee Gray drew the night’s loudest applause from the crowd of about 90 when she chided Galanter for her absence. “Ruth Galanter should be here answering these issues,” said Gray. “She should be here.”

After the debate, Grammatico, a slow-growth activist, likened Galanter’s absence to missing a job interview and “showing total disrespect for the public.”

Discussing the general issue of Galanter’s absences, candidate Tavis Smiley called them an indication that she “doesn’t want to face the heat.”

Galanter’s other challengers--all of whom were present at the forum at Venice High School--are Mervin Evans, J. Wilson Bowman and Charles Mattison.

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All six are in the same spot Galanter was four years ago: trying to get their names, ideas and what they perceive as the incumbent’s shortcomings before the voting public before the primary.

Prevailing political wisdom holds that there is no reason for an incumbent to give challengers attention they might not otherwise get by joining them to discuss the issues. But it especially rankles Galanter’s challengers that she has, in their view, veered so far from her grass-roots activist background so quickly by adopting an “above the fray” strategy.

Responding to such criticisms, Glazer said Galanter is accessible to the public at planned events throughout the district to discuss her record. Noting the small crowds that have so far attended the forums, Glazer said there is little interest in the race because voters are satisfied with Galanter’s performance.

He predicts that she will sail through the primary with more than 50% of the vote. But that did not mean he wanted an empty chair with Galanter’s nameplate in front of it to be seen at last week’s candidate forum, which was televised by Continental Cablevision.

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Although closemouthed about details of its overall strategy, the Galanter camp is expected to mount a targeted-mail blitz, relying on Galanter’s endorsement by the Police Protective League, environmental groups and several Westside congressmen and state legislators, particularly state Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles).

Already, mailers signed by Police Protective League President George Aliano have arrived at homes of many voters in the district, which includes Westchester, Mar Vista, Venice, Playa del Rey and the Crenshaw-Baldwin Hills area.

The mailers remind the voters that Galanter is a crime victim who narrowly escaped death in a stabbing attack during the last campaign. “Today, she is a champion of law enforcement,” said the mailer.

Some of Galanter’s challengers, particularly Smiley and Evans, say emphasizing support from the Police Protective League may backfire on Galanter, especially in the Crenshaw area, where there is strong community outrage over the videotaped beating of Rodney G. King by Los Angeles police officers. The league, which represents rank-and-file officers, has backed Police Chief Daryl Gates against a growing call for his resignation.

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Smiley, a former aide to Mayor Tom Bradley, who has concentrated his effort in Crenshaw and the Oakwood section of Venice, predicted that Galanter’s police support “will backfire like you won’t believe.”

Galanter has not called for Gates to step down, saying he deserves a fair hearing. Glazer, Galanter’s consultant, predicted that voter concern over public safety would far outweigh any animosity toward police over the King beating.


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