Los Angeles City Council candidate Greig Smith reported Thursday that he has raised $282,300 for his campaign, far outpacing other 12th District contenders including a school board member, Julie Korenstein, and a former state assemblywoman, Paula Boland.
Korenstein filed papers Thursday reporting that she has raised $50,000, while Boland has not yet hit that level, which requires notifying the city Ethics Commission.
And with less than two months left before the March 4 election, businessman Robert Vinson pulled off an upset by edging out Korenstein to win the 12th District endorsement from the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley.
The flurry of activity, which also includes the opening of campaign headquarters this week, indicates the increasing intensity in the race to succeed Councilman Hal Bernson, who is prevented by term limits from seeking reelection in the northwest San Fernando Valley district.
Campaign finance reports filed by Smith with the city Ethics Commission show that he is getting support from Bernson backers and other City Hall insiders. Smith is Bernson's chief of staff.
"It's scary," candidate Walter Prince said of the amount Smith has raised. "He's obviously got a big head start, thanks to the same special interests and downtown lobbyists that put and kept Hal in office."
Lobbyists who have contributed to Smith include Ken Spiker, Richard Lichtenstein, Brad Rosenheim, Mark Armbruster and George Mihlstein. Smith also received money from lobbying firms C.S. Davis Co., Rose and Kindel, Catalyst Communications and Greer, Daily Inc.
Mitchell Englander, a campaign consultant for Smith, said the candidate's financial support is broad-based and includes many district residents who know Smith from his long service in the Valley.
The district includes Chatsworth, Northridge, Granada Hills and Porter Ranch and has six candidates, leading to predictions that there will be a runoff after the March 4 election.
Candidates have until today to file campaign reports. Smith's report shows that he had raised $216,000 in contributions as of Dec. 31. He also had received $65,000 in public matching funds under the city's campaign finance rules.
Englander said the candidate has since gotten close to $330,000, which is the limit on fund-raising for council candidates who receive matching funds. "We are done, unless someone blows the cap," Englander said.
Candidates are required by city ethics law to tell the panel when they have reached $50,000 in fund-raising, which Korenstein did Thursday.
Her campaign manager, John Shallman, said he is not concerned by the fund-raising gap because he believes that Smith is so unknown to voters that it would take him $1 million to compensate for Korenstein's higher public profile.
"He is so far behind where it matters, in terms of people knowing who he is," Shallman said.
Korenstein, who has represented the district on the school board for 16 years, expects to raise $200,000, Shallman said.
Among the other candidates, businessman Robert Vinson reported raising $50,000 as of Jan. 2; Prince reported raising $2,000, all in a loan to himself; teacher-businessman Norman Huberman did not return calls for comment but reported Sept. 30 that he had not raised any money as of that date.
Boland is more than halfway to the $50,000 threshold, said campaign aides, who insisted that name identification makes the race a two-way contest between Boland and Korenstein.
Vinson received a boost Thursday when the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley announced that it has endorsed him. He received the necessary 60% of the vote of the party's 44-member executive board after a contentious battle.
"It's definitely a coup for Robert Vinson," said party Chairman Jeff Daar, a 12th District resident who supports Korenstein. "I suspect Julie Korenstein's late entry into the race hurt her a little because Vinson had more time to work on reaching the executive board members."
Although the contest is nonpartisan, Korenstein, who narrowly lost a race for the seat in 1991, has emphasized that she is the only Democratic elected official in the race. Smith and Boland are Republicans.
Boland hopes to capitalize on the momentum she gained when she was the leading vote-getter in the November election for a City Council seat proposed as part of the Valley cityhood measure.