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Candidates Say They Won’t Back Korenstein in a Runoff : Council: The refusal of the other four challengers to offer support could damage the educator’s hope of unseating Hal Bernson.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a rift that could prove politically damaging to City Council candidate Julie Korenstein, four other candidates running against incumbent Hal Bernson said they will not support her if she faces Bernson in a runoff election.

Bernson faces Korenstein, a Los Angeles school board member, and the other challengers in the April 9 city primary for the 12th District seat. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, the two top vote-getters will compete in a June 4 runoff.

A public opinion poll conducted by The Times on March 23-24 showed that Korenstein was likely to force Bernson into a June matchup if the election were held at that time.

Korenstein’s campaign manager has said the educator’s strategy is to run second to the veteran lawmaker in the primary and to pick up enough support from partisans of other anti-Bernson candidates to beat him in June.

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Bernson’s five challengers, all of whom have repeatedly criticized him for backing the massive Porter Ranch development project, often refer to themselves as “a coalition” running against the 12-year incumbent.

Korenstein has said she will back any other candidate in a runoff against Bernson.

But in separate interviews, the other candidates--printer Allen Hecht, police detective Arthur (Larry) Kagele, businessman Walter Prince and newsletter publisher Leonard Shapiro--said they will not back Korenstein against Bernson.

The four challengers’ complaints against Korenstein ranged from her refusal to sign a campaign ethics pledge to an accusation that she is too financially dependent on labor unions.

“I wouldn’t endorse her; I wouldn’t vote for her,” said Prince, who is considered the No. 3 candidate in the race.

“She’s just acting more and more and more like a politician. . . . All I see there is another Hal Bernson,” he said.

Korenstein campaign manager Parke Skelton said he believes that Prince and the others ultimately will get behind Korenstein because they are so strongly opposed to Bernson. Even if they do not, he said, it will not have “any real substantial effect” on her chances.

Skelton said to the extent that voters loyal to the other anti-Bernson candidates sit out a Korenstein-Bernson face-off, rather than vote for her, “that might hurt some.” But Skelton said, however, that he was not sure how many votes the other four candidates control.

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“We want to have everyone on board. . . . We’ve been doing everything we can to keep these grievances from breaking up the coalition,” he said.

The depth of the antagonism of the other challengers toward Korenstein was illustrated at a recent candidates forum in Chatsworth. Bernson did not attend.

A member of the audience asked the candidates if they all would support anyone who made it into a runoff with Bernson. According to Prince and Hecht, Korenstein proceeded to praise her opponents and say she would back any of them.

But when the moderator asked the others if they would support her, they pointedly remained silent.

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“She . . . looked to the left and she looked to the right, and nobody else said a thing. Nobody blinked. She got the shock of her life,” Prince said.

Prince said he decided not to back Korenstein partly because she declined to sign a proposal by him that all candidates limit themselves to spending only $1 per registered voter in the district, or a total of $110,000.

Skelton replied that Korenstein did not sign because the agreement also prohibited candidates from taking campaign contributions from women’s and environmental groups, several of which are supporting her.

Hecht complained that Korenstein broke a promise not to publicly release the results of an opinion poll taken in December and jointly financed by him, Prince and Korenstein.

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Korenstein later gave the poll results, which showed that she could push Bernson into a runoff, to reporters. But Skelton said his understanding was that each candidate was free to release the findings as they applied to that candidate.

Shapiro, who publishes a 2,100-circulation newsletter on City Hall politics, said he was not supporting Korenstein because she is too weak to beat Bernson in June.

“Bernson’s got a big box in his campaign office that says ‘Korn Flake’ on it,” said Shapiro, referring to an imitation cereal box that carries a derisive nickname for Korenstein and was given Bernson by a supporter.

Kagele said he does not “believe in her politics” and criticized her support by unions.

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Through a spokesman, Bernson declined comment on the four challengers’ position on Korenstein.

But Republican political consultant Paul Clarke, who served as Bernson’s campaign consultant in his 1987 reelection run and is now spokesman for the Porter Ranch developer, said the situation shows that Bernson’s opposition is badly fragmented.

Hecht concedes that if Korenstein faces Bernson in the runoff, “I think Hal stands a chance of beating her if we don’t back her.”

Skelton said endorsements from other candidates often have only a marginal benefit to runoff candidates.

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He noted that although state Sen. Art Torres picked up endorsements from seven other primary opponents in the recent runoff election for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, he was defeated by former City Councilwoman Gloria Molina.


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