ELECTIONS / 41ST ASSEMBLY DISTRICT : 6 Democrats Define Their Differences in Final Push

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Six Democratic candidates in the 41st state Assembly District took their distinctive styles and messages to voters from Agoura Hills to Santa Monica this weekend in a final burst of campaigning in one of the city's most competitive--and unpredictable--races.

Two Republicans are also running for the post in the district, but it is widely believed the Democratic nominee will prevail in November.

The incumbent, Assemblyman Terry Friedman (D-Brentwood), set the stage for Tuesday's Democratic primary free-for-all by deciding to run for a judgeship, not for reelection.

The Democratic sextet has spent almost $1 million, combined, running for the Friedman seat, which represents some of Southern California's choicest real estate, including the western San Fernando Valley, the Conejo Valley, Malibu and the Westside of Los Angeles.

Candidate William Rothbard, 43, an attorney, planted a 1989 Orioles baseball cap on his head Saturday to begin another day of precinct-trekking in the San Fernando Valley. On this day, a West Hills neighborhood was the target of his voter pitch, refined by two months of campaigning.

"You often have only seconds," he told a reporter, "so you've got to hit the high notes fast."

His high notes, as delivered to voters Allen Sokoler, a retired accountant, and his wife, Sonya, a piano teacher, were precise. First, as vice chairman of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, he is trying to purchase properties near their home as parkland, including the Soka University site. Then, he told them that he's the candidate with the longest list of endorsements from law enforcement groups.

Rothbard's high notes seemed to appeal to the Sokolers' worries about creeping crime. "It just makes me sad to see all the people with bars on their windows," Sonya Sokoler said. "It makes it look like the good people are in cages."

Candidate Sheila Kuehl, 53, best known as Zelda in the 1960s TV sitcom "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," briefed campaign workers in her Santa Monica home Saturday as they prepared to walk precincts.

"Everybody wants to know about crime," Kuehl told Jim Fourat, a campaign worker whom she called a "wonderful progressive, and AIDS activist." Kuehl coached Fourat to tell voters that she is the only candidate with a real record of fighting violence as a women's activist who developed anti-spousal abuse programs. "What if they ask about capital punishment?" Fourat asked.

"I just feel uncomfortable with it," said Kuehl, a law professor. "It's like condoning violence--it's inconsistent."

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Later, walking a precinct near her Ocean Park home, Kuehl approached voter Camille Cuttaia, an occupational health nurse, who was changing the oil on her car. "I'm one of six people running--there's five guys and me," Kuehl said by way of introducing herself.

Cuttaia looked up from under the hood. "If you're the only woman on the ballot--then you've got my vote," she said.

Edward Tabash, 43, has been chased by dogs and even a horse in his pursuit of votes in the more rural areas of the 41st District. But last Friday, as the attorney trudged through a sunbaked neighborhood in Agoura Hills, his biggest enemy was the time of day. Precinct-walking in the early afternoon finds few people at home.

Tabash had picked this precinct and others to walk because its conservative Democrats are likely to be receptive to his get-tough stands on crime and illegal immigration. Polling data shows that voters here tend to be unsympathetic to state Sen. Tom Hayden, the liberal former anti-war activist who represents Agoura Hills.

Tabash arrived on the doorstep of Norma Landy, an insurance company manager, as she was rushing to finish household chores. But she paused to listen and talk. "Of the six Democratic candidates, I'm the only one with a strong stand on illegal immigration," Tabash said.

Landy asked what the other candidates say on the issue. "They don't want to touch it," Tabash said.

The late-afternoon sun was ricocheting off the plate-glass windows of the Vons grocery store in Tarzana, parboiling everything nearby. But that didn't stop Roger Jon Diamond--dressed in a UC Berkeley T-shirt, sweat pants and tennis shoes--from trying to enlist shoppers in his latest political crusade.

"If you were in the hills looking down in the Valley, you'd see this brown cloud," Diamond, 53, told two voters in a row as he talked about the need to clean up the air. The voters seem unfazed, their concerns elsewhere.

"It's Roger Diamond saying what he thinks," Diamond told a reporter. "I'm not abandoning my environmental concerns for political expediency. On the other hand, I'm obviously concerned about other issues."

Diamond, an anti-smoking activist who for years also led two notable fights to block oil drilling along the coast, eschewed precinct walking. "I don't like to intrude on people in their homes," he said. But Diamond, an attorney, seemed to revel in practicing the art of connecting with voters in the hubbub of a shopping center. When one voter told him she was a Clinton supporter, Diamond pointed to one of his brochures and a photograph therein of him meeting the President. When another bristled about illegal immigrants, Diamond related how his daughter, a schoolteacher, found bilingual education to be inefficient.

And when shopper Leesa Hersch of Encino came along, Diamond joked: "If you vote for me, I'll even name a bill after you."

It had happened before and it happened again Friday for candidate Pat MacGuire, 43, when he knocked on the door of Marie and Rocco Soldato of West Hills.

"I got your mother's letter and it made a big impression on me," Marie Soldato told MacGuire. "We felt the honesty in the letter, and that's what we want to see in our officials."

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Virginia MacGuire's letter praising her son's rectitude and willingness to reject campaign contributions from political action committees was one of the first pieces of political mail to go out in the 41st Assembly race. And it has proved a valuable voter icebreaker.

Twice on Friday afternoon, older women mentioned the letter and invited MacGuire in from the heat to have a cold drink.

MacGuire said his targets are stable homeowners who are worried about taxes and disenchanted with politics as usual. For these voters the candidate, a special-education teacher and financial consultant, has a platform: shifting the property tax burden from residential to commercial properties and donating a large share of his salary to local police agencies to help fight crime.

Candidate John Shallman, 30, a business consultant, was riding high Saturday as he walked precincts in Woodland Hills, reminding voters that only days earlier a local newspaper endorsed him.

"I am the Valley candidate," Shallman told voters on his precinct rounds, noting that he has lived in the San Fernando Valley since 1986. It is a residency record that no other candidate can match in an Assembly district where more than half the electorate lives in the Valley. Only Shallman and MacGuire reside there now.

Another of Shallman's high notes with voters was that he is the only Democrat in the race who supported Richard Riordan, the independent-minded Republican who won the Los Angeles city mayor's race last year against liberal Democrat Michael Woo. In fact, Shallman points out, he was assistant political director of Riordan's campaign. While acknowledging that his youthful looks sometimes make him look more a candidate for student body president than for state office, Shallman said he has the intellectual maturity to hold down the Assembly job. "I don't adhere to any rigid ideology, right or left," he told a reporter. "I'm not talking about slogans, but solutions."

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