City Council Campaigns Run Afoul of Foul-Ups : Politics: Weintraub mailer meant for Democrats is sent to Republicans; incumbent Holden's ploy costs him key funds. Consultants say mistakes are common.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's election season at City Hall, and time as well for political pratfalls, missteps and slip-ups.

What else to call a mailer, signed by arch-Democrat David Roberti, that's carefully aimed at Democratic voters but was inadvertently sent to Republicans?

"It's a political consultant's nightmare," one prominent political consultant--who asked that he not be named--said about the snafu that bedeviled the campaign of Los Angeles City Council hopeful Roberta Weintraub.

Weintraub is "less than thrilled" by the foul-up but is gamely proceeding in the hard-fought 5th District council race, said Parke Skelton, the candidate's veteran political consultant.

Nor is the Weintraub campaign the only one at City Hall with a touch of egg on its face lately.

Councilman Nate Holden and his rival in the hotly contested 10th District council race, attorney Stan Sanders, have not been immune. Neither has Deputy Dist. Atty. Lea Purwin D'Agostino, an erstwhile 5th District council candidate.

"There but for the grace of God go I," said one campaign consultant who declined to be quoted about the screw-ups, saying it might bring him bad luck.

Others note that campaigns are pressure-cooker events, conducted in double-time, by highly competitive people operating in the public eye. "In every campaign I've ever been in there've been mistakes," said seasoned consultant Darry Sragow, who has run gubernatorial and U.S. Senate campaigns and who represented D'Agostino during her short-lived council bid. "You just hope they don't go public or prove fatal to your candidate."

Weintraub's campaign sent mailers to 3,800 people who regularly cast absentee ballots--a highly courted group because they vote reliably.

The trouble with the Weintraub mailer had to do with targeting, the crafty political science of making a candidate appear attractive to different audiences.

One batch of mail, intended for Democrats, bore comforting endorsements from Roberti, one of the state's most visible Democrats as the state Senate's former president pro tem, and from state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Van Nuys). The problem was that the mail went to Republicans.

On the other hand, some mail intended for Republicans--featuring kind words about Weintraub from former GOP state senator and ex-LAPD chief Ed Davis, and from former Dist. Atty. Robert Philibosian--ended up going to Democrats.

"It was rather discouraging," said Weintraub's consultant, Skelton, who insisted that the misstep was small.

"The computer tapes (with the names and addresses of the absentee voters) somehow got mislabeled," Skelton said. Weintraub herself did not return phone calls about the mix-up.

Meanwhile, in the 10th District council race, incumbent Holden had boasted for weeks about his political craftiness.

Thanks to a careful reading of city law, Holden insisted he would freeze out Sanders from public matching funds by not applying for such funds himself.

It wasn't until it was too late that Holden realized that he had misinterpreted the law.

After Sanders got his first $23,000 in matching funds, Holden made a belated appeal to get some of the funds himself--to no avail. The deadline had passed. By now, Sanders has received nearly $60,000 from the city's public financing program.

"It happened before I was hired," Harvey Englander, Holden's campaign consultant, told a reporter.

Meanwhile, the Sanders campaign cried foul last week about a Holden political mailer that accused Sanders of voting, as a former director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to raise bus fares.

An indignant Sanders told a Times reporter that Holden's charge was a lie. He and his campaign press secretary, Felicia Bragg, assembled minutes from MTA meetings to prove his point.

But their PR effort backfired. The official records showed that Sanders voted against the fare increase plan eventually adopted--but only after he had authored and voted for an alternative fare hike that was only slightly less onerous.

"I just made a mistake," Bragg said Friday of her decision to send out the media packet. "Blame it on me." But at another point, Bragg insisted that Sanders was correct in saying that he had voted against the fare hike. "It's all semantics," she said wearily.

But the only fatal mistake of the season so far is the one that killed D'Agostino's candidacy after it was determined that she had failed to get enough signatures to place her name on the ballot.

"Darry (Sragow) is a friend of mine and I love him," Englander said. "But not getting your candidate on the ballot is major."

To qualify, candidates must pay $300 and get the names of 500 registered voters on petitions. The D'Agostino campaign fell 35 signatures short.

Sragow blamed the city clerk's office for being "hyper technical" in throwing out signatures.

A crestfallen D'Agostino refused to blame anyone. "It's not productive," she said, "to point fingers at this time."

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