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Yaroslavsky, Feuer Claim Overlapping Constituency

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Barbara Yaroslavsky’s decision to run for the Los Angeles City Council has already sparked soul-searching in liberal Jewish political circles on the Westside as activists decide between her candidacy and that of Michael Feuer, head of a highly regarded legal-services program for the disadvantaged.

Some political observers have even speculated that it will soon be evident either to Yaroslavsky--who is hoping to succeed her husband, Zev--or to Feuer that their constituency is not big enough to support both and that one of them will have to bow out.

Some would bet that Barbara Yaroslavsky, wife of a popular, 19-year veteran of Westside politics who was elected in June to the Board of Supervisors and will take office in December, is more likely to survive in this hothouse political environment. But others are not sure Feuer will bend.

“I think he’s in the race to stay, but there’s no question that she has done him damage,” said consultant Steve Afriat. “If I were him, I’d try to branch out and appeal to (San Fernando) Valley voters.”

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Feuer acknowledged that the road ahead has been made tougher by Yaroslavsky’s decision. “But I like to take on challenges,” he said. “I’m in this race to stay.

“People have remained very supportive,” Feuer added last Friday, “The message to me is that if the electorate will focus on the merits of the candidates, I can win. My challenge is to get the voters to stay focused that way.”

Meanwhile, Yaroslavsky said she has been heartened by the “phenomenally positive response” to the news that she had decided to run.

“That’s good,” Yaroslavsky said. “They should stick to their commitments. But there’s enough people to go around for all of us.”

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It is believed that former Los Angeles Board of Education member Roberta Weintraub, who is already in the race, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Leah Purwin D’Agostino, who is all but in the race, are likely to find their heaviest support among moderates. Others with their hats in the ring include Jeff Brain, a San Fernando Valley real estate broker; Bill Christopher, a Westside community activist, and Ryan Snyder, a transportation activist.

Since 1986, 36-year-old Feuer has been executive director of Bet-Tzedek Legal Services, a platform that also helped spawn the political career of state Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Brentwood).

During Feuer’s tenure, one of Bet-Tzedek’s most serious challenges has been to survive financially as the government grants it once relied on have shrunk.

Adapting to leaner times, the agency has launched annual--and increasingly successful--campaigns to raise private donations. Now, more than one-third of Bet-Tzedek’s $2.9-million budget comes from private donations.

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Although the agency’s board members are essential to Bet-Tzedek’s financial strength, Feuer has been a key player in major decisions, including the selection of board members with more corporate experience.

Bet-Tzedek provides legal services to poor, disabled and elderly clients. It also has made a name for itself by providing legal aid to Holocaust survivors, victims of the Jan. 17 earthquake and small-business owners hurt by the 1992 riots.

Feuer has used his access to political activists and contributors as the launching pad for his quest for public office. Virtually the entire Bet-Tzedek board of directors--about 35 members--have endorsed him.

In statements filed with the Los Angeles Ethics Commission in July, Feuer reported raising more than $60,000 for his campaign, making him the race’s early financial leader. Critics, however, point out that half of Feuer’s reported war chest consists of pledges.

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“I’d like to see how much of those pledges are paid now that Barbara is in the race,” said one Yaroslavsky partisan, who requested anonymity.

Yet even as it became increasingly evident that Barbara Yaroslavsky would run, Feuer has shown staying power.

Last weekend, for example, a letter went out to hundreds of Westside Jewish leaders--many of them lifted from Zev Yaroslavsky’s lists of supporters--urging them to back Feuer as the “tireless crusader” for the disadvantaged clients of Bet-Tzedek and a man of “impeccable integrity.”

It was signed by several well-known Jewish liberals, including Bruce Corwin, president of Metropolitan Theatres, attorneys Lisa Specht and Ed Sanders, and community activist Marcia Volpert.

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That these people would offer political backing in the face of Barbara Yaroslavsky’s impending move was a good sign for Feuer, according to some observers. Their presence in Feuer’s camp also points to some of the rifts in the Jewish community.

Corwin, for example, is president of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, where Barbara Yaroslavsky is a member of the board of directors.

“Barbara is a very good friend of mine,” said Corwin, a veteran of Democratic politics. “But Michael is an extraordinary person.”


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