The Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee on Wednesday announced its endorsements in the officially nonpartisan races for Los Angeles city, school board and community college district offices, picking incumbent City Atty. James K. Hahn over challenger--and fellow Democrat--Ted Stein.
State Sen. Tom Hayden, the Democratic challenger to Republican Mayor Richard Riordan also got the endorsement, while Georgia Mercer emerged as the committee’s choice over Cindy Miscikowski in the strongly contested race for retiring City Councilman Marvin Braude’s 11th District seat; both women are Democrats.
In low visibility--and often shoestring budget--municipal races, endorsements from the local branches of the major political parties are prized by candidates seeking voters’ attention. Such endorsements are seen as ways to lend credibility to a campaign and to help distinguish a candidate from the rest of the pack.
Historically, committees have been able to independently spend funds on behalf of candidates through such devices as slate mailers to party voters. However, the extent of their support has been sharply curtailed under the new rules imposed by Proposition 208, approved by California voters in November.
“It’s unclear how much we can do now. . . . We are still looking into that,” said Terrence Montgomery, program chair for the committee.
Although the city, school and college board races are technically nonpartisan, a candidate’s party affiliation is often a factor in this heavily Democratic city. Predictably, the Democratic Central Committee’s ballot choices were all Democrats, and most were incumbents considered strong bets for reelection.
But two fiercely fought contests pitting Democrats against each other--city attorney and the 11th City Council District--lent real interest to the committee’s decision-making. Candidates were interviewed over the weekend by a subcommittee, then invited back Tuesday night, when the full committee made its decisions.
Hahn embraced the endorsement while labeling his opponent, Stein, as too scared to even show up at the full committee meeting to make his case.
“The Central Committee . . . with their endorsement recognized that what this city needs is a city attorney with a proven record, one with the honesty and integrity to best carry out the job,” Hahn said in a written statement. “They sent a clear signal that what they do not need is a real estate developer, who is unqualified for the job and who is simply trying to buy his way into public office.”
Stein’s campaign consultant, Harvey Englander, said the deck was stacked against Stein from the start.
“We were told very clearly that Jimmy’s getting the endorsement. After the interview was over, people on the interview committee said the decision was made to endorse Jim [because they] owe the Hahn name,” Englander said. He referred to Hahn’s father, former County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, a longtime, popular and powerful fixture on the local political scene. Englander declined to identify the person who allegedly said the endorsement of Hahn was a foregone conclusion.
Likewise, the Mercer campaign touted her endorsement for the 11th District seat while the Miscikowski forces dismissed it as the result of “personal attacks” on the candidate’s ability to raise money and on her lobbyist husband.
The endorsement shows that Mercer, a former aide to Riordan and a longtime community activist “is of the community, from the community. She is seen as a consensus builder,” said Larry Levine, Mercer’s campaign consultant. “She sees things from the community’s viewpoint; her opponent sees things from City Hall’s viewpoint.”
Rick Taylor, who is overseeing the campaign of Miscikowski, a former chief deputy to Braude, accused Mercer of pandering to the committee.
“It appears Georgia Mercer will say whatever it takes to win, and Cindy, to her credit, has been consistent and straightforward,” Taylor said, adding that there is an emerging “underlying negative tone” of the Mercer campaign that appears to focus primarily “on attacking Cindy and her husband,” wealthy attorney Doug Ring. Ring announced last year that he was suspending his City Hall lobbying activities once his wife entered the race.
In addition to Hayden, Hahn and Mercer, the endorsements went to the following City Council incumbents, none of whom face substantial opposition: Mike Hernandez, 1st District; Laura Chick, 3rd District; Mike Feuer, 5th District; Richard Alarcon, 7th District; Rita Walters, 9th District, and Jackie Goldberg, 13th District.
The committee made no endorsement in the 15th District, where Republican Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr. is facing four challengers.
The committee also endorsed City Controller Rick Tuttle, who has drawn two challengers.
For the Los Angeles Board of Education, the committee picked incumbent Julie Korenstein for District 6 but declined to back anyone in District 2, where incumbent Vicki Castro is running unopposed, and in District 4, where the impending retirement of Mark Slavkin has produced a four-way race. For the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees, the committee backed incumbents Althea Baker and Elizabeth Garfield for Offices No. 6 and 2, respectively, and picked Kelly Candaele from a field of nine in the open race for Office No. 4.
Times staff writer Jodi Wilgoren contributed to this story.