Lea Purwin D'Agostino, a top contender for the 5th District City Council seat, may have been disqualified Friday when election officials announced that she had failed to collect enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
All candidates are required to submit a nominating petition containing the signatures of 500 registered voters who live within the district. But only 380 of the 679 signatures that D'Agostino submitted were found to be valid, according to Los Angeles election officials.
Nonetheless, D'Agostino campaign manager Darry Sragow said he is not ready to call it quits.
He noted that she has until Wednesday afternoon to challenge the findings of election officials and said he is confident that her campaign can show that at least 120 of the thrown-out signatures are valid, providing her with the 500 necessary.
"It ain't over till it's over," Sragow said.
D'Agostino could not be reached for comment.
As a candidate, D'Agostino, a 17-year deputy district attorney nicknamed the "Dragon Lady," has been a tough, no-nonsense campaigner. She has the backing of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents the LAPD's rank and file.
But her petition was plagued with problems, including signatures that did not match names on the county's list of registered voters, said Kristin Heffron, chief of the city's elections division. Other signatures were matched with valid voters who do not reside in the 5th District, she said.
Still other signatures were thrown out because election officials could not decipher the addresses that accompanied the names on the petition, Heffron said.
Sixty-six signatures were thrown out because a volunteer who collected them filled out an affidavit with an address that did not match the address on the volunteer's voter registration card, Heffron said.
Although Sragow said he is confident that D'Agostino's campaign can provide enough information to help election officials validate many of the signatures that were thrown out, Heffron said she thinks it will be difficult to validate 120 signatures by Wednesday.
In the past, she said, candidates have been able to persuade election officials to validate a handful of signatures to qualify for the ballot, "but this is quite a bit."
"We'll have to wait and see," Heffron added.
Political consultant and lobbyist Richard Lichtenstein said the conventional wisdom among candidates is to submit up to 1,000 signatures as early as possible so that if some are thrown out, the candidate has time before the Feb. 14 petition deadline to submit additional signatures.
Candidates who qualified are Jeff Brain, a Sherman Oaks businessman; Mike Feuer, the former head of a legal clinic; Roberta Weintraub, a former school board member; and Barbara Yaroslavsky, a volunteer activist and wife of Zev Yaroslavsky, who vacated the 5th District seat in December to join the County Board of Supervisors.
Election officials said Dan McCrory, a union leader, also failed to provide enough valid signatures, falling 69 shy of the 500 mark. He too has until Wednesday to challenge the election officials' findings. Another candidate, Didacus Ramos, an urban planner, failed to turn in his petition by Tuesday's deadline.
The preliminary election will be held on April 11. If none of the candidates gets more than 50% of the vote, a runoff between the two leading candidates will be held June 6.