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Bernson Again Looking Like a Candidate Seeking Reelection

TIMES STAFF WRITER

BERNSON REDUX: Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson, after his cliffhanger 1991 reelection, privately grumbled to just about everybody that he wouldn’t run again in 1995.

Not.

The signs are unmistakable. The 63-year-old Bernson has put political consultant Harvey Englander on the payroll--Englander handled strategy for Bernson’s 1991 campaign--and held a fund-raiser last month at the Greek Theatre.

Organizing the event was Robyn Bernson, the councilman’s wife. “She did it for free,” snorted Bernson chief deputy Greig Smith when asked if Robyn Bernson was paid. Well, the question was not totally out of line. The Northridge councilman has been repeatedly criticized by ethics watchdogs for using campaign finances on meals, travel and other luxuries, although he has never been formally accused by authorities.

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Meanwhile, forget about state Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) trying to oust Bernson in the 1995 spring Los Angeles City Council elections.

It won’t happen, says Englander, who ought to know. He not only represents Bernson, but also Katz, who is seeking reelection in November. “I’ve talked to Richard about his future,” Englander said this week. “And I predict that I won’t have any conflicts in the near-term future involving these clients.”

Speculation about a possible Bernson-Katz matchup arose because Katz will be needing a job when term limits end his tenure in the Assembly in 1996. And Bernson, troubled by continuing criticism of his campaign spending habits, has looked especially vulnerable.

Talk of a challenge by Katz gained momentum after two mailers from his state office were mysteriously sent to hundreds of Bernson constituents living outside Katz’s assembly district earlier this year. A sheepish state bureaucrat later confessed to the snafu.

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All this had given the Bernson camp late-night fits.

But now the councilman says he feels increasingly confident that Katz won’t challenge him. A relieved Bernson, for example, returned from a Katz community breakfast last month to tell his staff that Katz introduced him as if “he was the savior of the world,” Bernson deputy Smith said. “It sounded like an endorsement.”

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ELEMENTARY EDUKASHON: Was it just a test? Or was Dan Quayle doing the typesetting?

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Nobody knows how it happened but Maureen DiMarco, who is running for state superintendent of public instruction, received a nomination certificate last week with “instruction” misspelled.

The gold-sealed certificate, issued by the secretary of state’s office, said: “Maureen G. DiMarco, was nominated to the office of Superintendent of Public Insturction.

Tony Miller, the acting secretary of state, says he has no idea how it happened and that wording on a similar certificate issued to DiMarco’s opponent, Delaine Eastin, was spelled correctly.

“It’s one of those mysteries of life,” Miller said.

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DiMarco, who is Gov. Pete Wilson’s secretary of education and child development, said there is nothing puzzling about the misspelling. “Clearly, we are in greater need of basic skills out there than anyone actually thought,” she said.

Miller says his office already has issued DiMarco a new certificate--with the proper spelling.

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CHICK IN THICK: It’s been a rough week for Los Angeles City Councilwoman Laura Chick. Several colleagues clobbered her proposal to limit police response to commercial and residential burglar alarms, finally prompting Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky during a recent council session to ask why everyone was “dumping” on Chick.

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The Chick problem, according to critics, is that the junior councilwoman has proved too bumptious and uncollegial. Supporters say the real problem is that Chick is too independent for some City Hall egos.

Chick has in fact found herself butting heads with two of her San Fernando Valley colleagues, Richard Alarcon and Bernson.

As chairwoman of the council’s Environmental Quality Committee, Chick is a key player in Alarcon’s bid to close the city’s Lopez Canyon dump--one of the 7th District’s least pleasant landmarks.

Although sympathetic to the heavy community pressures facing Alarcon, Chick has questioned whether the city can afford to replace the Lopez dump.

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Landfill politics have also reportedly soured Chick’s relations with Bernson, a noisy opponent of the Browning-Ferris Industries-owned Sunshine Canyon landfill, located north of Granada Hills.

For the past three years, the city has spent $750,000 jousting with BFI in court over the landfill. Some privately have called it vanity litigation, saying it is a wasted effort by Bernson to appease his constituents. Certainly, the city has yet to score any lasting victory on the merits of the lawsuit.

Chick has urged a settlement, a suggestion that has made Bernson unhappy.

The first-term councilwoman also has rubbed Councilman Marvin Braude the wrong way. Chick has challenged and occasionally upstaged Braude on police issues; they both serve on the Public Safety Committee. The latest example has been her burglar alarm plan, offered as a compromise to a Braude plan.

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Under Braude’s plan, the LAPD would respond only to alarms that alarm companies verify are bona fide break-ins. But Chick believes Braude’s plan is a political lemon. Her alternative permits police to answer alarms when verification is not available after one phone call to the location. Although Braude was cranky about Chick’s play on the alarm issue, by week’s end the pair had met to smooth out their differences.

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DEBATE POINTS: U.S. Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) has jokingly predicted that there’ll be so many debates between him and his GOP challenger, Richard Sybert, that voters will be “sick” of the pair before election day.

But Sybert--attorney, policy wonk and former senior aide to Gov. Wilson--says he doubts this alleged debating disease is catching. Sybert says Beilenson talks a great deal about debates but has proved elusive when it comes to actually arranging them.

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Last month, Sybert, in a letter, urged Beilenson to participate in 10 debates, each on a separate topic. He also couldn’t help taking a swipe at the “town hall meetings” Beilenson has been holding with constituents in his 24th Congressional District. “These are nothing more than thinly disguised campaign events on the public’s nickel,” Sybert wrote.

But despite the querulous tone of Sybert’s missive, Beilenson wrote back with a pledge to debate his challenger, but probably not until the last three weeks of the campaign.

Before then, Beilenson told Sybert, the congressman would be busy attending to the public’s business. “Every year Congress’ busiest time is the last two months of the session, and that will be especially true this year,” Beilenson wrote. “Obviously, the only way I can properly represent my constituents . . . is to be in Washington.”

Nonsense, Sybert fired back. If Beilenson has time to fly back to Los Angeles several times a month to hold regular town hall meetings with his constituents, he has time for debates, the challenger said.

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Actually, Beilenson has a good debate record. In 1992, he engaged in half a dozen debates with his previous GOP challenger, Tom McClintock. In an interview, Beilenson said his own experience convinces him that doing debates now won’t do much good. Voters aren’t ready for such dialogue until a few weeks before the election.

In Glendale, there has been little argument over debates.

Assembly Republican James Rogan, a former Municipal Court judge, and his Democratic challenger, former federal prosecutor Adam Schiff, have agreed to hold them weekly, starting in late September.

They decided this in a cordial face-to-face meeting at a Burbank coffee shop last week.

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With both contestants well versed in the rough and tumble world of argumentation, these debates could prove fun and enlightening, Schiff predicted.

No exact dates or places have been set but “we agreed we wanted the formats to be as free-form as possible,” Schiff said. “We want to get away from the usual stilted debate format.”

No argument there.

Times staff writer Beth Shuster contributed to this column.

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