Valley Is Key Battleground for Mayoral Candidates : Local voters played major role in deciding results of primary race. Richard Riordan and Michael Woo need to do more to win advantage in June runoff.

Paul Clarke is a corporate political consultant who lives and works in Northridge. As a political consultant to candidates from 1977 to 1987, he achieved better than an 85% winning average.

What role will the Valley play in the June runoff election for mayor? A big one. It has already played a major role in deciding the candidates in the runoff.

What must the candidates do to gather the Valley's votes in June? More than they have already done.

As the primary votes were counted, it became clear that Richard Riordan had done his Valley homework, and Michael Woo had not (see top graph below).

Considering that the Valley's primary- election voter turnout was higher than the rest of Los Angeles', 38% compared with 34%, the Valley will be a key battleground.

Moreover, two of the four Valley City Council districts have heated runoff election contests. That compares with only two out of the 11 predominantly "over the hill" districts having runoffs. These contests tend to increase voter turnout, further boosting the Valley's probable electoral weight.

If one takes the primary election turnout and apportions it to the two candidates based on their respective strengths elsewhere in the city, the runoff results could look like those shown in the bottom graph.

Apportioning votes for all other primary candidates equally, we see that Riordan could win by a 57%-43% margin in June. Of course, intervening events could drastically alter the outcome.

Perhaps Riordan sensed the Valley's importance early on by placing a headquarters in Sherman Oaks. Woo discovered the Valley belatedly, waiting 10 months after starting his campaign to open a headquarters here.

Now Woo is starting to court Valley voters. He has tried to move into the "tough" territory staked out by Riordan in the primary by calling for the deportation of illegal aliens charged with serious crimes. This should play well in the Valley, including largely Latino areas.

Riordan, on the other hand, is starting to back away from his "tough" law-and-order approach, even removing the word from his campaign slogan. This could prove to be a costly mistake. That approach has proven popular with both Republicans and Democrats in the Valley.

Both candidates need to do more to be confident of the Valley's votes.

First, they must have consistent positions. Saying one thing to Valley audiences and another to audiences in South-Central or East Los Angeles, and getting caught by the press or opponents doing it, can be disastrous. For example, if a candidate believes last year's riot was a riot, he should it call it that. It can't be called a "riot" in Woodland Hills and a "rebellion" or some other euphemism in Watts.

The candidates also need to remember that Valley voters tend to be driven by economic issues. The Valley has a higher than average concentration of homeowners. These are people who have grabbed a little piece of the American dream. They want to hold onto it. Policies and people who threaten to take that dream away do not get the Valley's vote.

Witness the back-to-back failures of the proposed tax to hire new police. It lost, in large part, due to Valley voters' skepticism over where those new police were going to be stationed. Had either of the measures included staffing formulas that promised a fair share to the Valley, the magic two-thirds majority might have been met.

Riordan and Woo are discovering what others have ignored at their peril--the Valley can make or break you. With more San Fernando Valley support, Tom Bradley would have been elected governor in 1982. He lost that race by 93,000 votes statewide--almost exactly the number of votes by which he lost in the Valley.

Mayoral Primary Elections Results


Valley: 42.80%

Non-Valley: 27.39% Woo

Valley: 12.88%

Non-Valley: 29.64% Others

Valley: 44.32%

Non-Valley: 42.97% Runoff Vote Projection


Valley: 63,451

Non-Valley: 99,225 Total: 156.676 Woo

Valley: 19095

Non-Valley: 100,884 Total: 119,979

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World