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Neighboring L.A. Democrats Trade Barbs Over Redistricting

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a rare fight between two Democratic members of Congress from Los Angeles, Rep. Brad Sherman on Friday accused Rep. Howard Berman of “stealing” the core of his district to shore up his political base at Sherman’s expense.

But Sherman’s aggressive lobbying against a proposed congressional map that would shift more than 170,000 Latinos from Berman’s San Fernando Valley district into Sherman’s appears to have backfired.

Instead of persuading state lawmakers to change the map, Sherman drew a stinging rebuke in Sacramento Friday night from a fellow Democrat who is a crucial player in deciding the final boundaries.

“He has made himself irrelevant,” said state Sen. Don Perata (D-Alameda), the chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee. “He would like to have sort of a white-bread district and is having a real hard time understanding that the population of California is changing, particularly in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.”

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He called Sherman “as self-serving as anybody I’ve met.”

Berman, who has welcomed the new map of his own district, said he understood why Sherman might feel “a little nervous” about representing a new constituency, but believed his colleague could still be reelected.

“He should relax and enjoy it,” Berman said.

The intraparty feud is part of the combat that erupts as politicians maneuver for advantage when lawmakers redraw congressional and state legislative maps. Redistricting takes place every 10 years to reflect population shifts in the U.S. census.

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State lawmakers hope to reach agreement with Gov. Gray Davis this month on final maps that would take effect in the 2002 elections.

In Sherman’s case, it’s a struggle for political survival.

Under the plan proposed last week by leaders of the Legislature, he would lose a broad swath of largely white, non-Latino communities ranging from Sherman Oaks, where he lives, through Woodland Hills to Thousand Oaks and Malibu.

In their place, he would pick up from Berman the mainly Latino communities of Pacoima, Sylmar, San Fernando and other parts of the northeast Valley.

Berman, who lives in Mission Hills and is popular among Latinos, has long feared that the rapid growth of his district’s Latino population would enable a Latino challenger to oust him in a Democratic primary--a problem that Sherman could face under the new map.

The Latino population in Sherman’s new district would surge from 20% to 52%. But in Berman’s new district, which would curve into largely non-Latino areas of Studio City and the Hollywood Hills, the Latino population would plunge from 65% to 41%. Latino civil rights groups have threatened a court challenge to block the change, saying Latinos should keep their dominant voice in electing the member of Congress in Berman’s district, the 26th.

On the new map, Sherman’s home near the Ventura Freeway would be at the end of a thin finger jutting into Berman’s district. In an interview, Sherman called it a “stupid little stick” linking “my home in Sherman Oaks to Reseda.”

“If I stand on my roof and throw a rock in any direction, it will land” in Berman’s district, he said. “My hometown, Howard steals it. He doesn’t give me my hometown; he only gives me my home.”

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Sherman spent most of the last week in Sacramento urging lawmakers to change the new boundaries. “Howard Berman stabbed me in the back,” he was overheard saying Friday night on a flight home.

In the interview, he described the two interlocking, U-shaped districts as “bad for the San Fernando Valley.” With constituents spread out among far-flung communities, the representatives will have less incentive to secure funds for community centers that would serve smaller portions of each district, he said.

“One of the reasons a congressman fights for a project in Van Nuys is because everyone who lives in the district will hopefully be grateful at election time.”

And with immigrants counting on their congressman to deal with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, “to tell people that they have to go much further, just because of politics, on a bus . . . that’s just imposing additional burdens on people,” Sherman said.

Sherman added: “If you owned a couple pizza parlors in the Valley, and you wanted to serve the Valley with two pizza parlors, you couldn’t possibly divide their territory that badly.”

The congressional map was drafted by Michael Berman, the congressman’s brother, a redistricting consultant to both the state Senate and to California’s 32 Democrats in the House of Representatives.

“I do not feel that Michael Berman did as well for all his clients as he did for his brother,” Sherman said. He described the consultant as “joined at the hip” with his brother and said he “tried to convince me that I should only care about my own political situation,” which would be fine.

“He hasn’t even addressed my concern that this is just bad public policy,” Sherman said. “I don’t think he believes that public policy should play any role in this.”

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Michael Berman could not be reached for comment. But Rep. Berman scoffed at Sherman’s remarks. “Oh, Brad’s not interested in his narrow political interests?” he said.

Berman also voiced little enthusiasm for Sherman’s proposal to carve the Valley into either north and south or east and west districts; scenarios that would both leave the bulk of the Latino constituents in Berman’s district.

“If Brad has a suggestion, he can give me a phone call,” Berman said. “I’d be happy to talk to him.”

But in Sacramento, Democratic leaders are discussing whether to ward off the threatened lawsuits by shifting even more Latinos from Berman’s district into Sherman’s, 24th District. And Perata dismissed Sherman’s “high-minded protestations about bad public policy” as a cover for his “self-interest.”

“There’s a lot of considerations, and a variety of recommendations and suggestions,” Perata said. “But not one of them that comes from Brad Sherman am I considering.”

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Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak contributed to this story.


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