TURNING UP THE HEAT: The campaign mailer that began showing up in thousands of mailboxes this week started with the line: "What do you call a politician who . . . "
But this was not the setup to a joke. It is the opening salvo of a new campaign piece aimed at 5th District City Council candidate Roberta Weintraub, a former school board member. The author, according to the small print at the bottom of the last page, is fellow candidate Mike Feuer, the former head of a legal services clinic.
Is it bruising? Yes. The mailer accuses Weintraub of voting to double her own salary as a school board member, allowing a private contractor to steal more than $700,000 from the school district and falling asleep during teacher contract negotiations, among other charges.
Is it accurate? Not according to Weintraub, who calls the mailer "total lies."
"For someone who presents himself as Mr. Clean, he is playing dirty politics," Weintraub said of Feuer.
Hardball politics, dirty or not, should come as no surprise. After all, it is four days before the April 11 primary and most indications are that Feuer and Weintraub are in a tight race to get into a runoff with front-runner Barbara Yaroslavsky, an activist and wife of Zev Yaroslavsky, who resigned in December from the council post to become a county supervisor. Sherman Oaks businessman Jeff Brain is also vying for the vacant seat.
Clearly, Feuer's camp is taking aim at Weintraub because they have conceded that Yaroslavsky will make it into the runoff and are positioning themselves for that second-place position.
"This is a race for No. 2," said Feuer's campaign manager, Cynthia Corona.
But Weintraub was so infuriated about the mailer that she held a news conference in front of Fairfax High School to "expose the outrageous mudslinging" at her by Feuer, she said.
In an interview, Weintraub refuted most of the charges and explained others.
For example, Weintraub concedes that she supported a move by the state Legislature in 1985 to increase board members' salaries from $12,000 a year to $24,000. But she noted that in 1991 she cut her own salary to $19,600 when the district faced fiscal problems.
Then there is the charge that a school district contractor stole $700,000 "while Weintraub and district officials looked the other way." Weintraub responded by saying it was she who blew the whistle on the contractor and recommended canceling the contract. "The minute I heard about it, I demanded a full investigation on what was going on," she said.
But the charge that most infuriates Weintraub is the accusation that she fell asleep during contract negotiations with striking teachers in 1989--a charge that was originally made by teachers union representatives and reported by local newspapers.
"It's a baldfaced lie," she said. Richard Fisher, the district's chief negotiator, backs her up. "Roberta was actively involved with a good energy level throughout," he said.
Corona defended the charge, saying each point is documented either by the official record of the school board meeting or by newspaper accounts.
"We totally, totally stand by our campaign literature," she said.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: Good timing can be a politician's best friend, and it couldn't have gotten any better than it did this week for Democratic state Sen. Tom Hayden and Republican Assemblywoman Paula Boland.
The unlikely team, who paired up to push a two-bill Los Angeles Unified School District breakup package, reaped benefits from the well-timed, but coincidental release of the CLAS standardized test results.
The test scores put LAUSD at the bottom of a heap of poorly performing school districts, shattering the school district's usual argument of, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?"
A typical LAUSD response to Sacramento's proposals to split up the district into smaller entities includes the plea that L.A. schools are turning a corner and doing a better job than ever of teaching kids.
Balderdash, says Boland.
Something is surely broken and needs repair, and the CLAS test scores add new evidence to back that up, Boland of Granada Hills said.
"Once in a while things come together when you least expect it," she remarked after Assembly and Senate education committees approved the two bills. "Today, the teachers' unions couldn't use the argument that they had been doing a great job. The CLAS scores took their false claims away. Facts precluded their fantasy figures today."
DIDN'T YOU USED TO BE A CANDIDATE?: Among the parent activists lining up alongside Boland on Wednesday to testify in support of her school breakup bill was Linda Jones, who introduced herself as a mother of two in the east San Fernando Valley.
But Jones has another identity she didn't mention: that of a school board candidate trying to oust Los Angeles Unified school board member Jeff Horton from his District No. 3 seat.
This puts her in the unorthodox position of trying to shrink the political kingdom she is seeking to inherit.
Says Jones: "No rational person would quarrel with the idea that LAUSD is simply too big to educate our children effectively."
PALMDALE AND OTHER GARDEN SPOTS: Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) and others from the House National Security Committee will make some exotic stops during a tour of far-flung military installations that begins today--Abu Dhabi . . . Bangkok . . . Hong Kong . . . Palmdale.
That's right, Palmdale.
McKeon successfully added Palmdale's Air Force Plant 42 to the committee's tour of Asian and Middle Eastern military bases in an effort to show off the production site of the B-2 Stealth bomber to some of the House's most influential defense decision-makers.
"A lot of people don't realize what happens at Plant 42," explained Armando Azarloza, a McKeon aide. "It is the jewel of our defense structure."
Joining McKeon on the extended base tour over the congressional recess will be the committee's chairman, Rep. Floyd Spence (R-S.C.), and three other members--Reps. Tillie Fowler (R-Fla.), Solomon Ortiz (D-Tex.) and Owen Pickett (D-Va.).
After two hours in Palmdale, the five lawmakers and their wives will fly to Hawaii for an overnight stay. They then will continue on to Bangkok, Thailand; Singapore; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Bahrain, and Istanbul, Turkey, to inspect military installations. There will be a brief refueling stop in Ireland before the delegation heads home on March 25.
This 18-day trip is no junket, McKeon aides say.
"They are going to be spending about a day or a day and a half in each site," said Azarloza. "There is no time for dilly-dallying. They are going to be discussing U. S. defense policy. They will be traveling on Easter Sunday. This is not by any means a pleasure trip."
It will be the second such foreign trip for McKeon, who accompanied a delegation of lawmakers to Israel during his first term. And he may even cross paths with Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles).
Waxman had planned to join a two-week trip to the Middle East sponsored by Sen. Hank Brown (R-Colo.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Mideast. However, that trip, which was to begin Saturday, has hit some roadblocks.
Brown originally offered an open invitation to any lawmaker with an interest in the region. But then media reports criticized the trip as an extended shopping junket for lawmakers and their spouses. Brown has since scaled back the invitation list to members of the subcommittee, citing problems with the military transport plane.
Waxman is still mulling his options. An aide says he may spend some time at an institute in Turkey learning about the politics of that country.
SPEAKING OF TRAVEL . . .: What do a tony Montblanc pen, dinners at restaurants like Citrus and Miro's, and a $2,800 trip to Taiwan have in common?
They're all gifts bestowed during the past year on Valley council members.
Following public disclosure laws, council members filed reports listing all investments, gifts and other sources of income during 1994. Among the homes they own and the stocks they play was a smattering of gifts from supporters and lobbyists to members Richard Alarcon, Laura Chick, John Ferraro and Joel Wachs. (Hal Bernson and Marvin Braude listed none.)
Both Chick and Ferraro went on trips to talk about international trade (Ferraro in Taiwan) and crime (Chick in Washington). For Ferraro, who has one of the largest stock portfolios of anybody on the council, the trip was a four-day affair last October, with all expenses paid by the Taiwanese government. Chick was a guest of the National Institute of Justice in Maryland.
According to his list, Alarcon is now signing his letters in style, courtesy of a "contractor for the city," Julian Montoya of the company Burrito King. Montoya gave Alarcon a Montblanc pen, worth $99.99.
But Wachs may have the most interesting list of all. In addition to dinners at well-known restaurants across the city, he was also given a pair of tickets to opening night at Cirque du Soleil.
The filing lists the value of the tickets at $79,100, but Wachs and his aides say that was a typo, that the real value was $79. Even so, the veteran councilman ended up sitting in the last row.
"It was center (section), but in the very, very back," Wachs said. Which turned out to be a good thing, he said, since only the last row benches had backs. "I have back problems," Wachs explained.
This column was reported by Hugo Martin and Henry Chu in Los Angeles, Cynthia H. Craft in Sacramento and Marc Lacey in Washington, D.C.