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L.A. Police Union, Sheriff Endorse Ted Stein in Race for City Attorney

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Picking up early endorsements from the city’s powerful police union and Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, San Fernando Valley businessman-lawyer Ted Stein vowed Thursday to focus on “public enemy No. 1--crime” as he formally announced his candidacy for Los Angeles city attorney.

The news conference at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City in front of about 50 supporters was just a formality for Stein, 47, who resigned his posts as Airport Commission president and senior advisor to Mayor Richard Riordan Jan. 1 to start campaigning. He has already collected more than $500,000 in his bid to oust incumbent James K. Hahn in April.

The endorsements were a major coup: Block and the Los Angeles Police Protective League have backed Hahn in the past, and are high-profile symbols in law enforcement who often sway voters.

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“We just think he’s the better candidate. He’s more aggressive. Whatever he needs from us, we’ll do,” union Director Gary Fullerton said. “Jimmy’s become a little complacent. . . . He’s a decent man, but he just doesn’t have the fire in the belly that Ted Stein has.

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Challenging his opponent to a series of weekly debates starting in January, Stein attacked Hahn’s record, citing a 61% conviction rate in criminal trials over the last decade and liability claims that have skyrocketed from $11 million to $60 million annually during Hahn’s 11-year tenure.

“We need a city attorney’s office that’s more than just a name on a door downtown, but an active presence in every citizen’s neighborhood,” said Stein, promising to build a “modern municipal law firm” with teams of community-based attorneys. “If the people of Los Angeles give me a chance . . . we’ll be out there every day, in the streets, in the courtrooms and--just as importantly--in the neighborhoods, making sure that this great, sometimes tough city becomes a saner, safer and more decent place to live.”

In an interview Thursday, Hahn responded to Stein’s attack by blaming local juries for making large damage awards, and he offered recent statistics showing his office’s conviction rate at 72% for the last several months.

“We’re not afraid of trying a tough case, but that means we’re not going to win them all,” he said. “If you want to have a 100% conviction record, it means you don’t file on difficult cases.”

The city attorney, with 700 employees and a budget of $70 million, represents the city and its employees in lawsuits and prosecutes misdemeanor crimes.

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Noting that the election is eight months away--and will be preceded by a pitched battle for Los Angeles County district attorney--Hahn, who has raised less than half as much money as his challenger, wondered: “Isn’t this all a little early?” He said he would debate Stein, but that weekly sessions seemed a bit much.

“I would assume that after the second or third one, we’ll both know what the other one is saying,” Hahn said. “A little of the drama would be gone.”

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An Encino resident who spent three years as a county prosecutor in the 1970s and then worked as a lawyer and investor in real estate development, Stein served on the Planning Commission under Mayor Tom Bradley, and helped run Riordan’s 1993 campaign for the city’s top job.

Stein and the police union officials lambasted Hahn for one of his deputies’ approval earlier this year of a $75,000 settlement with a man who shot at a police officer during an arrest and subsequently sued the city over the incident, in which he was also shot by an officer. Hahn eventually argued against the settlement, and the City Council rejected it; since then, the case has resulted in two hung juries.

Political observers said the union’s endorsement is among the most powerful in local politics, offering fund-raising, foot soldiers, and a powerful symbol for advertising and mailers. Of current elected officials, 12 of the 15 council members, Riordan, Hahn and City Controller Rick Tuttle, had the union’s backing.

“It’s a shorthand voting cue,” said political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe of the Claremont Graduate School. “It’s very positive for Ted Stein. Nobody knows him. Nobody knows who he is, and when people do not know much about a candidate, they tend to look at shorthand voting cues.”

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Profile: Ted Stein

Eight months and half a million dollars after he quit his appointed City Hall posts to launch a campaign, Ted Stein formally announced his candidacy Thursday for the office of Los Angeles city attorney. The election is in April.

* Born: Nov. 1, 1948

* Residence: Encino

* Education: Bachelor’s degree from USC, 1970; law degree from Loyola Law School, 1973

* Career highlights: President of Los Angeles Airport Commission and senior policy advisor to Mayor Richard Riordan until Jan. 1, 1996, when he resigned to begin campaigning for city attorney. Previously served on the city’s Planning Commission under Mayor Tom Bradley. In 1970s, worked for three years as a deputy district attorney. Since then, has worked as a lawyer and investor in real estate development.

* Family: Married for 25 years to Ellen Stein, who serves on the city’s Board of Public Works; two daughters.

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