At times, the cast of would-be legislators in the upscale West Side-San Fernando Valley 41st Assembly District sounds as if it has been lifted from a Woody Allen movie about New Age California politics.
There are the lesbian former television actress, the environmental activist-lawyer who defends nude dancers, the Malibu civil libertarian who urges legalizing prostitution while acting as one of the state's leading male advocates for abortion rights and the anti-smoking activist.
Touching off this polychromatic dash of Democratic Party candidates for the state Legislature was the surprise decision last February by Assemblyman Terry Friedman (D-Brentwood) to step down and run for a Superior Court judgeship.
The district includes the West Side communities of Santa Monica, Brentwood, the Pacific Palisades and Malibu, the San Fernando Valley communities of Woodland Hills, Tarzana and Encino and the Conejo Valley communities of Hidden Hills, Calabasas, Agoura Hills and Westlake Village.
With 50.4% of the 41st District electorate registered as Democrats and 36.3% as Republicans, conventional wisdom says the triumphant Democratic primary candidate wins the seat in November.
Although the front-runners in the six-person Democratic primary are strongly rooted in West Side politics, sheer numbers have forced them to pay keen attention to the San Fernando Valley part of the district. Records show that 52% of the Democrats eligible to vote in the primary live north of Mulholland Drive.
Of the West Side-based candidates, three--Bill Rothbard, Edward Tabash and Sheila James Kuehl--have even set up campaign headquarters on Ventura Boulevard to prove their courtship of the Valley is earnest.
Rothbard is vice chairman of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and ex-president of the Berkeley-based nonprofit Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. He once led schoolchildren in protesting a traveling exhibit of the nation's original Bill of Rights documents because it was sponsored by Phillip Morris, the tobacco giant.
The 43-year-old anti-trust attorney's campaign has picked up the endorsements of a number of Valley-based homeowner leaders, including Rob Glushon of the Encino Property Owners Assn. and Bob Gross of the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization.
"True, I live on the West Side but through my work on the conservancy, I've dealt extensively with Valley environmental issues," Rothbard said. "I've also done all my own precinct walking in the Valley."
Rothbard also supports the breakup of the Los Angeles Unified School District, a viewpoint with a strong Valley constituency.
Nor is he a school reform parvenu, Rothbard says, pointing to his work as legal counsel to a parent group that advocates converting public schools in the Pacific Palisades--where his own two teen-age children are being educated--to independent charter schools.
In 1992, Rothbard unsuccessfully sought appointment as Santa Monica city attorney, calling himself a champion of the underdog, and in the 1980s he was involved--as an aide to U.S. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio)--in the effort to block President Ronald Reagan's nomination of conservative Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Rothbard has raised more than $175,000 for his campaign, and is receiving the private support of outgoing lawmaker Friedman, a close friend. As a candidate for a judgeship, Friedman is barred from being overtly engaged in Rothbard's campaign.
Also armed with a large campaign war chest is Sheila James Kuehl, a Loyola Law School professor and a leader of the nonprofit California Women's Law Center. Her latest campaign report showed that she had raised nearly $250,000.
A onetime actress, Kuehl played Zelda, the lovelorn pursuer of Dobie in the 1960s sitcom "Dobie Gillis." Last week, she raised about $8,000 at a campaign fund-raiser featuring a reunion of the series' stars.
At a Democratic Party meeting in San Pedro in March, Kuehl said she hoped to become the first openly lesbian member of the state Legislature.
Kuehl has backed strong tenant-rights measures in her hometown of Santa Monica. Also, in 1993, as a member of a local service center for the homeless, Kuehl urged a moratorium on enforcement of a controversial Santa Monica ordinance prohibiting sleeping in the city's parks.
"If you're a Santa Monica renter and a Jewish woman, your mailbox is going to be stuffed with our mailers before the campaign is over," said Barbara Grover, Kuehl's political consultant, commenting on the candidate's constituent base.
State Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina have endorsed Kuehl, who says her domestic violence work at the California Women's Law Center equips her to deal with a top concern of voters: street violence.
Kuehl says she has been tough on domestic violence criminals and is ready to show the same grit when it comes to street criminals but only after trying to rehabilitate young, first-time offenders. "I understand the three-strikes-you're-out mood of the public, but I also believe we need to intervene and offer treatment after the first strike," Kuehl said.
Although some call her a left-wing ideologue, Kuehl insists that the tag doesn't fit and says her endorsement by Ben Reznik, former president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., and Roberta Weintraub, former Los Angeles school board member, proves it.
Roger Jon Diamond of the Pacific Palisades has raised $110,000 in his quest for the 41st District seat.
As an attorney, Diamond has made a name for himself in recent years defending nude dancing establishments in Orange County threatened by restrictive zoning laws.
But the 53-year-old Diamond's career in law and politics also amounts to a virtual road map of the California environmental and political reform movement.
In the 1970s, Diamond was a key sponsor of an unsuccessful statewide ballot measure to ban smoking in many public places. "I've been crazy about smoking for years," Diamond said recently. "I used to carry a squirt gun around and shoot people who were smoking in public. Now this is popular. Then it was a lonely crusade."
More recently, the American Lung Assn. retained Diamond to help block a tobacco-industry challenge to the city's sweeping law against smoking in restaurants.
In the 1970s, Diamond was one of four official proponents of the ballot initiative, approved by Watergate-weary voters, that created the state's campaign-finance disclosure law and the Fair Political Practices Commission, and he was instrumental in getting an unsuccessful measure on the ballot to ban the construction of nuclear power plants.
Diamond was also a leader of NO OIL, the citizens group that led the fight to block oil drilling in the Pacific Palisades by Occidental Petroleum.
His work in the environmental trenches has earned Diamond the endorsement of Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude, the council's anti-smoking champion, and the support of many members of the clean-air and clean-water movements.
"I'm tenacious," Diamond said. "Look at what I've done without holding office, so I think I'd be even more effective if I held office." If sent to Sacramento, Diamond says he would fight to limit campaign contributions in state elections and for bolder laws requiring pollution-free cars in California.
Tabash, 43, has courted Valley voters by calling himself a moderate Democrat who will champion tougher laws against illegal immigration. "The idea that any impoverished person who comes to our shores is entitled to financial aid and citizenship is unacceptable," said Tabash, who has a civil-law practice in Beverly Hills.
In one campaign mailer targeted at Valley Democrats, Tabash positioned himself as the candidate with the least in common with the "political power brokers that elected Tom Hayden" as he damned his Democratic rivals for being "more sympathetic to a world view of the left."
Still, Tabash is no stranger to progressive politics. In fact, since 1981 he has been chief spokesman for the California Abortions Rights Action League, a group that has endorsed his candidacy. And his civil-libertarian roots have led him to advocate legalized prostitution. When alleged madam Heidi Fleiss was arrested, Tabash was quoted as saying, "If we, as a society, really care about women . . . we will stop turning some of them into criminals because they have chosen to exchange sex for money."
Tabash, who lives near Malibu, has invested $150,000 of his own money in the race, bringing his war chest to about $200,000.
Also running in the Democratic primary is Pat McGuire, 43, a self-described gay fiscal conservative from Tarzana. McGuire says he will fight to lower residential property taxes by shifting them to commercial properties over a five- to seven-year period. McGuire, who has raised $70,000 for his race--much of it from family members--and has been endorsed by several local political clubs, teaches adult education for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
McGuire's mother wrote a letter to voters telling them that her son was special because he would not accept money from political action committees and would devote half his salary as an assemblyman to provide more police protection.
John Shallman, 30, a former top political adviser to Mayor Richard Riordan, is the sixth Democratic candidate in the race. Shallman, who lives in Encino, owns a business-consulting firm. He has raised about $15,000 for the race.
"I'm the only Valley candidate," Shallman said, pointing out that McGuire is a recent resident of the Valley. "We've had enough of West Side lawyers representing us." He describes himself as a political outsider and pragmatist who supports the breakup of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
A supporter of the death penalty, Shallman said he would focus on curbing juvenile crime through educational programs and boot camps for first-time offenders. He advocates tax credits to businesses that contribute personnel to act as mentors to young people.
There are two candidates in the Republican primary.
They are Michael Meehan, 28, a reserve deputy sheriff who is completing work on his law degree at Loyola University and has raised $7,600 for his race. A Santa Monica resident and former student body president at UCLA, Meehan has won endorsements from the Los Angeles County Peace Officers Assn. and the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the latter being the collective-bargaining agent for city police officers.
As a deputy who works from eight to 16 hours a week at the Lennox substation in southeast Los Angeles, Meehan says he is the best-suited law-enforcement candidate.
Calabasas resident Peter Eason, the second GOP candidate, works in marketing at California Federal Bank. Eason was a leader of the Calabasas cityhood campaign approved by voters in 1991 and currently is on the Calabasas Traffic and Transportation Commission. He has raised $10,000 for his campaign.
Eason, 39, has been endorsed by Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson, Assemblywoman Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills) and the California Republican Assembly, a grass-roots organization for GOP conservatives.
Eason said his business experience qualifies him to tackle the important job of streamlining state government.
Running unopposed as the Libertarian candidate in the race is Philip Baron, 34, a Tarzana realtor.