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Katz Opts Out of Scramble to Succeed Edelman as Supervisor

State Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) was the first of the genuinely big names to be dropped from the list of contestants in the succession battle for Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman’s seat.

Katz took himself out of the running Thursday morning, saying in a press release that he finally decided, after soul-searching and temptation, to stick with his original plan to run for reelection next year. The prospect of running for Edelman’s seat contained a high risk for Katz. Losing would have left him with no political office at all.

The next to fall out was ex-Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo. By Thursday afternoon, Woo, now temporarily a lecturer at Harvard, called from Boston to end speculation that he might be eyeing the Edelman seat.

“There isn’t any interest I can express in it,” said Woo, who narrowly lost to Richard Riordan in this year’s mayor’s race. Instead, Woo said, he continues to be more intrigued by the idea of running for California secretary of state.

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Still, new names continue to surface in the 3rd District soup. Among the surprises: ex-councilwoman Joy Picus, who in June lost her job to Laura Chick, and current Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon.

Picus has toyed with the idea of running for supervisor for several years. But how do out-of-office politicians do in comeback bids? Badly.

“I’m absolutely looking at it very carefully,” Picus said Thursday. “It’s my (old) district, my sphere of influence. And I have good connections on the West Side.”

Finally, being the only well-known female in the race might put some heat on front-running male contestants. Take, for example, Picus suggested, how her own record as a pro-choice feminist would stack up against that of state Sen. David Roberti (D-Van Nuys), a liberal to be sure but nevertheless an abortion foe.

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“I think it’s a big negative for him,” Picus said. Indeed, Roberti had to struggle in his 1992 senate reelection bid against pro-choice Republican Carol Rowen, who tried to make the race turn on Roberti’s abortion stand.

Then there’s Alarcon, who raised a few eyebrows by telling reporters that yes, he might be interested in the Edelman seat.

Alarcon, who has held office for only five months, revealed his ambitions to reporters who found him in Orlando, Fla., attending a National League of Cities meeting. Bad form, said one City Hall observer. Strange, said another.

“I think it’s important to say that he said he’s keeping his options open, not that he’s considering running,” said Alarcon press deputy Sybil MacDonald.

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Finally, there’s Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who is viewed with Roberti as a front-running candidate.

Yaroslavsky had madly scrambled back from Korea Thursday (cutting short a pressing city business trip to Los Angeles sister city Seoul) and before you could say “jet lag” was hustling political support and advice.

“Supervisor is one of the two jobs in politics that I’ve ever been interested in--it would be one of the most challenging public policy jobs in the state,” Yaroslavsky said. (The other is Congress, he said.)

If he opts in, expect Yaroslavsky to run as a candidate who will shake up the county’s transportation bureaucracy. The huge Metropolitan Transportation Authority “is frankly a mess,” Yaroslavsky said.

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TONGUE TIED: Guess who asked the question that triggered Mayor Richard Riordan’s awkward confession Tuesday at a Van Nuys Rotary Club luncheon? We’re talking about Riordan’s admission that it was a “mistake” to award the city’s Department of Water and Power workers a 9% pay hike after their walkout in September.

The question came from Deputy Dist. Atty. Lea D’Agostino, who came to be known as the Dragon Lady during her prosecution of movie director John Landis in the 1986-1987 “Twilight Zone” trial. In 1988, D’Agostino ran against her boss, then-Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner.

At Tuesday’s event, D’Agostino easily squeezed a mea culpa from Riordan by asking simply how the city could justify granting DWP workers a 9% pay hike and not giving at least a similar amount to its police officers.

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Afterward, D’Agostino, who now plies her legal talents out of the Van Nuys Courthouse, stood up again amid the sea of Rotarians and praised Riordan’s candor, saying it surely marked him as a “great mayor.”

But others are wondering how much longer Riordan can get by with his “aw-shucks-I’m-sorry- but-I’m-just-a-country-lawyer” routine.

Tuesday’s was not Riordan’s first admission of fallibility. During the Malibu wildfires he apologized for remarks that made him sound indifferent to the misfortunes of residents living outside the city of Los Angeles. Even before he officially took office, the mayor was projecting a kind of humble naivete when he admitted the state’s budget situation was beyond his ken; at public events, especially with Chief Willie Williams, the mayor often defers to others to field questions.

Councilman Joel Wachs, a great champion of the mayor’s, has been quick to jump in and defend the mayor for his “refreshing” honesty and simplicity of character. And for the time being at least, according to political consultant Joe Cerrell, Riordan’s gaffes and admissions reinforce his citizen-politician image.

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But when does it catch up with him, creating the image of a bumbler? “I don’t know where that dividing line is, but he hasn’t gotten to it yet,” Cerrell said.

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GUN DEBATE: On the explosive issue of gun control, the Valley region’s lawmakers tend to split along partisan lines but differ over how far they’re willing to go.

Democratic Reps. Howard L. Berman of Panorama City, Anthony C. Beilenson of Woodland Hills and Henry A. Waxman of Los Angeles voted for the so-called Brady bill, which sets a five-day waiting period on handgun purchases to enable a background check to be done for evidence of a criminal or mentally unstable past.

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Republican Reps. Carlos J. Moorhead of Glendale and Howard P. (Buck) McKeon of Santa Clarita opposed the measure, which President Clinton signed this week.

The Democrats called the bill a marginal step in the right direction. Moorhead and McKeon said that it makes it appear that Congress did something significant to curb violent crime when it really didn’t.

Berman, Beilenson and Waxman said they support banning assault weapons. And each would prohibit the sale of handguns to minors. Berman backs a system for licensing handguns that would require the buyer to demonstrate competence and knowledge of safety rules.

Beilenson and Waxman said they’d consider a ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns. Berman would not.

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“It would not guarantee that handguns would not be in the possession of criminals,” he said. “And there are too many people now who believe that handguns are a legitimate means of protection against robberies in their homes or business.”

Moorhead said that, rather than the Brady bill, “what we need badly is an instant check system so you can call in and find out if people have mental problems or it they’re on record with violent crimes or other felonies.”

He said he’d have to see an amendment to the crime bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would ban 19 assault weapons before taking a position on it. He said the juvenile ban “has some common sense to it.”

McKeon, a gun owner since the age of 16, said he’d prefer to put more police on the street, build more prisons and carry out stiffer sentences than pass laws that would deny guns to law-abiding citizens. “So many guns isn’t a problem; it’s so many guns in the wrong hands,” he said.

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He said he’d impose stiffer mandatory sentences when guns are used in crimes. And he voted to restrict the sale of guns to juveniles. He, too, said he would have to analyze the assault-weapons ban.

Both McKeon and Moorhead have received campaign contributions from the National Rifle Assn. The NRA gave McKeon $4,950 in 1992 and Moorhead, $1,000. McKeon said that he had long agreed with the organization philosophically; Moorhead scoffed at the notion that the contribution had any impact on him.

This column was written by Times staff writers John Schwada in Los Angeles and Alan C. Miller in Washington, D.C.


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