Two Months After Council Defeat, Gray’s Still Paying
In political life, election losses can have a nasty way of lingering.
It has been more than two months since Mary Lee Gray suffered a more than 2-1 defeat against Ruth Galanter in the contest for the 6th District seat on the Los Angeles City Council.
But campaign reports show that Gray is still paying for her defeat. Literally.
The onetime Los Angeles County supervisor’s aide had $17,700 in debts and just $8,300 in cash at the end of June, according to a report filed with the city clerk’s office last week. Gray said this week in an interview that IOUs have continued to accumulate, so that her campaign has nothing left in the bank and still owes about $20,000.
The lingering deficit has also exposed, for the first time, Gray’s mid-campaign falling out with her campaign consultant, Harvey Englander.
Englander said this week that Gray has refused to pay $4,600 she owes him. Gray said she will pay, but accused Englander of abandoning her campaign.
Galanter, meanwhile, is safely ensconced in her second term with more than enough cash in her campaign fund, $18,200, to pay her outstanding debts of just $1,400, campaign reports show.
With heavy backing from developers, entertainers, professionals and union officials, Galanter outspent Gray by nearly 4 to 1. The councilwoman from Venice paid $411,000 to win, much of it on a flurry of glossy color mailers attacking Gray.
With her $114,900 in expenditures, Gray was left to a more rudimentary campaign featuring personal appearances by the candidate, lawn placards and simpler black-and-white brochures.
Gray--who left her job as an aide to county Supervisor Deane Dana to become associate administrator of the county’s Long Beach Comprehensive Health Center--said this week that she does not want to dwell on the past campaign.
But she said her chances were hurt badly by the lack of funds and Englander’s exodus as consultant less than a month before the April primary.
“The bottom line is, if you have money and you have incumbency, it is very difficult to overcome,” Gray said. “It becomes a very sad commentary for anyone who wants to take on an incumbent.”
The former candidate could not conceal her displeasure with Englander, who, she said, told her just two weeks before the primary that he was leaving the campaign. “When he found out that we did not have the large Republican dollars that he thought we would, he quit the campaign, pure and simple,” Gray said. “Basically he said we didn’t have the resources.”
She said the Orange County-based consultant estimated that it would cost $200,000 to $300,000 to run an effective campaign.
“After dropping us, he found someone with more money and he went with him,” Gray said--a reference to the campaign Englander successfully engineered for Councilman Hal Bernson in the 12th District.
Englander said he had been out of the Gray campaign for several weeks before deciding to join Bernson.
The veteran political consultant has run several successful Los Angeles City Council campaigns, including Michael Woo’s 1985 unseating of incumbent Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson. But he said he found himself unable to work with Gray “for two reasons: She wasn’t listening to my advice, and the funds were not available to run the type of campaign I wanted to run.”
Englander said, for example, that he designed an absentee-ballot mailer, only to learn that there was not enough money to send it to voters.
The candidate and her handler also argued over fund raising. Gray had pledged to voters not to take money from developers with projects within the 6th District and also told reporters that she would not rely on donations from allies of her boss, Dana.
“She made a decision not to take developer money,” Englander said. “And I said, ‘That is great, if you can raise money elsewhere.’ When she couldn’t, I asked her to revisit her decision.”
But Gray refused, saying that reneging on her pledge would have ruined her credibility.
“Mary Lee Gray has her own way of doing things, and she is very entrenched in it,” Englander said. “I think it would have been very difficult for anyone to step into the position that I did.”
Told of Englander’s comments, Gray responded, “I don’t even want to dignify something so ridiculous.”
Galanter had also made a pledge related to campaign donations: to take no funds from developers with controversial projects pending within her district.
The councilwoman’s final campaign report shows substantial contributions from developers and their allies, including $1,000 from a company that plans to build 320 condominiums next to Los Angeles International Airport.
An official from the Department of Airports has called the residential project incompatible with the neighborhood because of the noisy jet traffic from LAX.
But Galanter spokesman Rick Ruiz said the $1,000 donation from Spound Corp. does not violate Galanter’s pledge because the project is not controversial.
“Someone from the airport saying they did not want anyone to build there for a technical reason is certainly not controversy, as we see it,” Ruiz said.
He noted that homeowners living near the proposed condominium project have not objected to it.
The 6th Council District in the city of Los Angeles includes Venice, Mar Vista, Playa del Rey, Westchester and the Crenshaw District. Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, running for her second term in the district, was forced into a runoff last April when she drew 49% of the vote against six challengers. Mary Lee Gray, then an aide to Supervisor Deane Dana, faced Galanter in the June 4 runoff. Galanter carried the day with nearly 70% of the vote, winning all but six of the district’s 188 precincts.