Seizing on an anxious city’s obsession, Los Angeles mayoral candidate Richard Katz focused on crime Tuesday as he increased the pressure in his late push to become a credible alternative to the two early front-runners.
The 42-year-old San Fernando Valley assemblyman is using $1 million worth of television advertisements and the skills of a White House political consultant to give needed definition to a low-profile campaign.
As he tries to forge a coalition of moderates unhappy with front-runners Michael Woo on the left and Richard Riordan on the right, Katz is pushing a platform of gun control and budgetary resourcefulness aimed at making the city safe without raising property taxes or laying off municipal employees.
“I will put hundreds more police on the street without raising taxes,” Katz said Tuesday at a Van Nuys news conference. “In Sacramento and Washington, I will insist on tougher laws to take guns out of the hands of criminals.
“During my first week as mayor I will convene a summit with the police chief, community leaders, U.S. Department of Justice, prosecutors, judges and corrections officials, and together we will stop the crime wave. Not in four years. But now.”
The news conference, along with his first commercial television ad conveying a similar message, marks the opening of the stretch drive for Katz. Trailing badly in public opinion polls, the legislator is relying on a late infusion of cash from carpenters’ unions across California and Nevada and on the long-distance strategizing of James Carville, who was President Clinton’s chief campaign adviser.
Katz called Tuesday for mandatory jail time for the possession of an illegal weapon, for banning U.S.-made clones of foreign weapons that are already illegal, and for imposing a 5% tax on the sale of all firearms and ammunition. In addition, he said he would form an anti-gang strike force combining federal and state law enforcement authorities, and would increase the use of federal racketeering laws against gangs.
Katz says that selling Ontario Airport, which the city owns, would raise enough money to pay for the overtime necessary to put 40% more officers on street duty during peak crime hours. City officials have questioned the wisdom of selling valuable city assets and expressed doubts that Katz could find a buyer anyway.
Though Katz gets high marks for recent stands on firearms legislation from local gun-control advocates, his critics--notably Woo--say his election-year enthusiasm for gun control does not square with past positions that won him high marks from the National Rifle Assn.
“Will the real Richard Katz please stand up?” Woo demanded at an afternoon conference hastily called to respond to Katz’s anti-crime agenda.
Woo pointed out that in 1988 Katz received an A rating from the NRA.
The previous year Katz had opposed legislation to restrict the sale of assault rifles and in 1985 he contributed to the defeat of a bill that would have permitted prosecutors to treat youthful gang members as adults by seeking felony convictions against 16- to 18-year-olds who commit crimes with firearms.
But in 1992, his NRA rating plummeted to an F after his support of a number of gun control bills in the state Legislature.
“Since the Stockton schoolyard massacre in early 1989, he has been a consistent strong supporter” of gun control, said Luis Tolley, western director of Handgun Control Inc., a group run by former White House Press Secretary James Brady and his wife, Sarah. Tolley was referring to the 1989 slaying of five children by a gunman firing an AK-47.
Katz has since voted for legislation banning the sale of assault weapons, expanding the waiting period for gun buyers, requiring handgun safety training for buyers, requiring trigger locking devices on firearms, and prohibiting the manufacture and sale of large bullet magazines.
Brian A. Judy, a Sacramento-based lobbyist for the NRA, said Katz’s stand on gun control began to change in 1989 when Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, with whom Katz has close ties, began pushing the Assembly Democratic Caucus to support a ban on assault rifles.
As they advance competing anti-crime programs, Katz and Woo share a common weakness: Neither plan is completely within a mayor’s power to carry out.
Katz’s gun control proposals would require legislative approval. And the principal element of Woo’s anti-crime agenda, his call for raising property taxes in order to pay for 1,000 more police officers, is on the April ballot and must receive a two-thirds vote of approval before it can be adopted. A similar proposal was voted down last November.
Woo’s own proposal for gun control has been languishing at City Hall for two months, but it may come to a committee hearing next week. If approved, the ordinance would deny operating permits to any gun store that sold cheap handguns--so-called Saturday Night Specials.
The city attorney’s office has cast doubts on whether the city can regulate gun sales, which ordinarily is the exclusive domain of the state Legislature.
In other campaign developments Tuesday:
* Leaders of a tenant rights organization, the Coalition for Economic Survival, issued a report card on the mayoral candidates.
Woo got an A-, the highest mark, and City Councilman Joel Wachs, co-author of the city’s original rent control law, got a B. Katz, Riordan and City Councilman Nate Holden received Fs. Former deputy mayor Linda Griego and businessman Nick Patsaouras got Ds--largely because the group said it had insufficient information on which to judge them.
Larry Gross, CES executive director, said Woo surpassed Wachs because the Hollywood lawmaker has shown a more active interest in recent years in renters’ issues and in the late ‘80s initiated a series of reforms to tighten up provisions in the city’s rent stabilization law. According to the score card, “as an Assembly member Katz voted for almost every major anti-tenant, anti-rent control bill.” The group criticized Riordan for undertaking development projects that displaced tenants.
The group has printed 100,000 of the score cards for distribution by hand or through the mails to targeted voters.
* Griego, the only well-known woman in the field of 24 candidates, aired her first campaign commercial, a tongue-in-cheek effort to distinguish herself from the “guys at City Hall.” Griego appears in the ad standing in a bright red jacket among black-and-white cardboard cutouts of her male rivals.
Times staff writers Mark Gladstone, James Rainey and John Schwada contributed to this story.