New Faces on Council Could Bolster Bradley : City Hall: Two staunch allies apparently win seats. But Prop. 5 passage erodes his power over commissions.
A reshaped Los Angeles city government emerged Wednesday with the apparent election of two new City Council members who are expected to bolster the political power of Mayor Tom Bradley.
The election of two Bradley allies came at a fortuitous time for the mayor, whose authority was undermined by the passage Tuesday of a Charter amendment that grants the City Council unprecedented authority over the commissions he appoints.
Voters in two inner-city districts narrowly approved the Bradley-backed candidates, Mark Ridley-Thomas, a civil rights activist, and Rita Walters, a Los Angeles school board member, according to preliminary results.
“I think the mayor improves his position somewhat with those two candidates winning,” said council President John Ferraro, “but he takes a beating on Proposition 5,” the City Charter amendment.
Officials estimated Wednesday that 12,000 absentee ballots remain to be counted, and it could be several days before the final results are tabulated. They declined to predict whether the ballots would affect the outcome of any races.
Bradley said he was “very pleased” with the victories of Ridley-Thomas and Walters, noting that they will be “friendly and supportive of good programs that I propose or positions that I take.”
Incumbent council members Ruth Galanter and Hal Bernson overcame challenges from anti-development interests and won reelection Tuesday, according to incomplete returns.
Galanter declared her victory a “rout.” A jubilant Bernson, who narrowly escaped defeat, toasted Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, who endorsed the San Fernando Valley lawmaker and made last-minute campaign appearances for him.
“Here’s to Daryl Gates,” Bernson said, raising a champagne glass at a victory celebration. Tears welling, the three-term incumbent embraced supporters as a recording of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” played.
In the bitterly contested 9th District race, candidate Bob Gay said he plans to challenge the results, which had Walters leading by 202 votes. Gay alleged that there were irregularities at polling places, including late openings.
Bradley dismissed Gay’s assertions Wednesday, saying, “This man has more nerve than a brass monkey. I can’t believe he would raise this.”
Poised and smiling, Walters declared victory Wednesday morning and said, “This is a day I want to celebrate.”
Asked about Gay’s charges of irregularities at the polls, she said: “A drowning person will grab at any straw.”
Refusing to concede defeat, Gay told reporters, “I swim--very well. And there are no drowning people in this community.”
Gay, a longtime aide to the late Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, for years has been planning to run for Lindsay’s seat and locked up the endorsements of influential 9th District ministers long before Walters decided to enter the race. Walters, who owns a home in the 10th District, moved to the 9th District about two weeks after Lindsay died in December so she would qualify to run for the seat he had held for 27 years.
His voice hoarse from campaigning, Gay broke into tears Wednesday during a 40-minute news conference at his campaign office in South-Central Los Angeles. He attributed his apparent loss to Bradley, who campaigned hard for Walters.
“I will say to you that the mayor, . . .” Gay began, then broke down for long seconds before regaining his composure. “The mayor is an extraordinarily influential individual in this city.”
Gay said he felt Bradley’s “weight” in the media, the Democratic Party and City Hall. He said, “I believe the mayor has a lot of brass . . . to point his fingers at me” in light of revelations during the campaign that mayoral staff members used city resources to aid Walters’ campaign.
Gay said he still stands a chance of winning the election on the basis of absentee votes that have yet to be counted. Unlike Walters, Gay mounted a substantial absentee balloting campaign. He was leading in the early count when absentee ballots were the only votes tallied.
But City Hall election analysts, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Gay’s strength among absentee voters probably was not sufficient to overcome Walters’ lead.
City officials said they did not know how many of the uncounted ballots came from the 9th District.
Election officials said absentee ballots have been playing an increasingly crucial role in city elections as more and more voters opt for the convenience of voting by mail.
Out of 231,315 votes cast Tuesday, about 44,473, or 19%, were absentee. Tuesday’s voter turnout was more than 18% of the city’s 1,233,919 registered voters, a relatively high percentage for recent elections, officials said.
Walters said she does not believe the absentee ballot count will put Gay ahead.
A key issue in the race was the need for improved city trash pickup and street cleaning in the 9th District. Walters said she plans to focus in part on adding affordable housing, major supermarkets and drug stores to the district.
Despite his successful backing of Walters and Ridley-Thomas, Bradley suffered a major disappointment with the passage of Charter Amendment 5, the ballot measure affecting commissions.
Bradley strongly opposed the Charter change, calling it a “naked power grab” by the council. He intended to keep it off the ballot with a veto, as he had done a year earlier, but signed it by mistake.
In the short term, its passage could have important repercussions for the ongoing dispute between the council and the Police Commission over the tenure of Gates. The measure, for instance, would permit the council to overrule any disciplinary action the commission might take against Gates as a result of investigations into the police beating of Altadena motorist Rodney G. King.
Only one current council member--Michael Woo--has called for Gates’ removal, but Ridley-Thomas and Walters will raise the number to three when they take office. Even so, Gates apparently has sufficient council backing to buck the commission.
The amendment, approved by 59% of voters, gives the council unprecedented power over the city’s 40 commissions, whose members are appointed by Bradley and have traditionally been loyal to the mayor.
In the past year, the council has criticized decisions by a number of commissions, including the Police Commission for its effort to oust Gates and the Community Redevelopment Agency board for its decision to pay director John Tuite $1.7 million to leave the agency.
Under the new law, the council can review any commission decision if 10 of the 15 council members vote to do so.
“Proposition 5, more than anything else, is the voters’ feeling of wanting accountability,” said Councilman Joel Wachs, who signed a ballot argument in favor of the measure.
Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said approval of the measure was a rebuke of Bradley. “I don’t think you can look at this and not recognize that the only person who signed the ballot argument against it was Mayor Bradley,” he said.
Bradley said the change will allow “intermeddling” and “nit-picking” by the council, which he said could compromise the independence of the commissions and delay important decisions. Bradley said the measure passed because voters do not understand the city’s commission system of government, which he said is intended to insulate governmental decisions from political interference.
In the 6th District race, Galanter said Wednesday that the results are a vindication of her record on growth management in her Westside district. Galanter had been attacked for allegedly drifting too far from the slow-growth platform that brought her an upset victory four years ago. Galanter won more than two-thirds of the vote in her contest with Mary Lee Gray, an aide to Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana.
Bernson attributed his victory in the 12th District to his success in persuading voters that his opponent, Julie Korenstein, had a poor record as a school board member and was politically too liberal for the northern San Fernando Valley district.
During the campaign, Bernson emphasized that Korenstein once belonged to the Peace and Freedom Party and supported civil rights leader Jesse Jackson in his bid for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination.
Korenstein’s campaign was founded on anti-growth sentiments, particularly in regard to the huge Porter Ranch development backed by Bernson.
“She wanted to hide behind Porter Ranch,” Bernson said. “We had to get her out in the open on her record.”
Korenstein’s campaign manager, Parke Skelton, charged that Bernson used the uproar over the King beating to interject race into the campaign. He said that Bernson cast the Rodney G. King case as a black and white issue: “Are you on the side of black criminals or are you on the side of the police chief?”
Bernson denied trying to inject race into the campaign.
In the 8th District, Ridley-Thomas, on leave as director of the Los Angeles office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said that his first priority will be to “hire a capable and compassionate staff who have a clear understanding of serving the public.”
He said he plans to institute a 24-hour phone line in the district for complaints. As part of a campaign for basic services, Ridley-Thomas said he will continue to push for Gates’ removal as chief.
The mayor’s endorsement played a key role in his victory, he said, adding that he would cooperate with the mayor on most issues but will “evaluate each point by point.”
Roderick Wright, Ridley-Thomas’ opponent, attributed his loss to the public exposure Ridley-Thomas received as a spokesman for groups that intervened in a lawsuit to place Chief Gates on leave. “The Gates things skewed the campaign,” Wright said. “An election is about how much exposure you can get in front of the constituents.”
Council members expressed regret that two tax-raising measures were soundly defeated. One was an anti-graffiti tax on felt-tipped markers and spray-paint cans.
The other was a $298.8-million bond measure to pay for an array of recreational and cultural improvements throughout the city. Council President Ferraro said Wednesday that unless a source of funding is found, budget restraints could force the Griffith Observatory to be closed within five years.
In the race for a 46th Assembly District seat, Deputy City Controller Barbara Friedman was the apparent winner of the Democratic nomination although only 114 votes separated her and Deputy City Atty. John Emerson. He declined to concede, pending the counting of an estimated 1,000 absentee ballots in the district.
In Wednesday’s unofficial count, Friedman had 16.4% of the vote to Emerson’s 15.8% in a 15-candidate field.
The winning Democrat will face three candidates representing the Republican, Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties--all of whom were unopposed Tuesday--in a July 30 runoff election.
Times staff writers Marc Lacey, James Rainey, Louis Sahagun and John Schwada contributed to this story.
Turnout in Tuesday’s Los Angeles general municipal election was the fourth lowest in at least 22 years, the city clerk’s office records showed: