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Hopping Onto Mr. Hertzberg’s Wild Ride

Just past 9 on Tuesday morning, a plate of salami and eggs was placed in front of Bob Hertzberg at Art’s Deli in Studio City. Several minutes later, the salami and eggs were gone.

I have no idea how Hertzberg could have eaten anything, because he never stops talking.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Feb. 5, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 05, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 122 words Type of Material: Correction
Lopez column -- In the Points West column in Wednesday’s California section, Steve Lopez incorrectly reported some details of a child support arrangement between Los Angeles mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg and his ex-wife. Hertzberg’s ex-wife did not try to block his run for mayor. In court, her lawyer argued that if Hertzberg’s salary as an attorney were to decrease because he chose a different career, his child support payment should not be reduced. The column implied that the payment would go from $9,800 a month to $1,800 a month. In fact, Hertzberg and his ex-wife agreed to a monthly payment of $4,500 plus a portion of private school tuition and other expenses for their two children. That arrangement is in effect now.

All I can figure is that while I glanced down to take a bite of my own food, Hertzberg, during a rare pause, inhaled his breakfast in a split second, probably in mid-sentence.

I got to the Sherman Oaks home of the mayoral candidate at 7 a.m., and he bounded out on the balls of his feet as if he’d been up for three hours, plotting new ways to torpedo Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn.

“Thanks for coming,” he said, leading me inside.

We began to sit down on the sofa, but he thought we’d be more comfortable at another sofa, and 10 seconds after sitting down, we were up and heading over to a computer so he could show me his new TV ad, in which Hertzberg is 70 feet tall for no apparent reason and marching through Los Angeles like Godzilla in a business suit.

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“Some of these things took a hundred takes,” Hertzberg says, explaining that he had to make sure he wasn’t “stepping” on cars or people as he rescued the city from Jim Hahn.

You have to think big, Big, BIG, Hertzberg says, which may explain why Hertzberg is the size of a sequoia in the ad. This is L.A., he says, LOS ANGELES, for crying out loud.

“And the mayor is playing it safe, no risks. He goes be-YOND the pale.”

Now Hertzberg, in jeans and sneakers, is putting on his windbreaker and ball cap and we’re out the door, walking to the Donut Factory at the corner, where Hertzberg likes to chat with locals and hear their gripes. One thing he’s learned from them is that people don’t care whether a problem is the jurisdiction of the city, state or county.

“They just want you to FIX the problem,” he says.

On the wall of the doughnut shop he points out a statehouse resolution -- drafted by Guess Who? -- proclaiming that whereas “the Donut Factory symbolizes the melting pot that America has become ... “

Well, I don’t know what, because Hertzberg is moving on before I can finish reading, so we’re out the door with our coffee, which we can’t drink, because we’re walking too fast and Bob, of course, is talking, talking, talking, and he got DECAF.

“Can you imagine me on caffeine?” he asks.

For three hours, we review the history of California, draft solutions to every one of L.A.'s intractable problems, learn about pickles, find out why Hertzberg sued his own father, and talk about Hertzberg’s ex-wife going to court to block his run for mayor.

He sued his father?

They shared a law practice, Hertzberg says. When they split up, creditors kept knocking on Bob’s door for his father’s unpaid bills. Bob sued, but his father died before the case was heard.

“It is what it is,” Hertzberg says, a phrase he will repeat 90 times.

OK, on to his ex-wife’s claim that his annual salary would fall from $1 million as an attorney to a lousy $200,000 as mayor. What kind of man is so ambitious that he’d allow his kids to suffer a child-support decrease from $9,800 a month to $1,800 a month, or less than what Hertzberg was paying his driver?

The kids are well provided for, he says, and the idea that you can’t support children on the mayor’s salary is preposterous.

After the doughnut shop, we drive.

“Chalk left,” Hertzberg instructs me from the passenger seat. “Now chalk right.”

He says chalk instead of turn.

He doesn’t know why.

It is what it is.

Now we’re at Sherman Oaks-Van Nuys Park for Hertzberg’s morning walk around the track.

“Are you much of a historian?” he asks me for the second time in 20 minutes, and he goes on to say the state is at a critical juncture, given the global economy, the need for government reform and the failure of public education, a convergence that cries out for BIG ideas and dynamic leadership.

“Am I feeding you too much?” Hertzberg asks. “Am I killing you?”

I am feeling a little faint, actually. Hertzberg has so much energy and so much detail in his head, you can understand why some critics said he tried to do too much as the Assembly speaker and became unfocused.

When people pass, Hertzberg sings, “Good morn-ING, good MOR-ning.” You’d need caffeine, pure cane sugar and hot wires to get this kind of performance out of Hahn.

And now comes the first hug of the day from the man known as Huggy Bear.

Two joggers go by and one of them calls out to Hertzberg.

He pauses. He turns. He’s locked in.

First comes the moon-faced smile, and then the arms open wide. There is no stopping him now. He moves in like a grizzly and wraps up his prey.

His wife has told him it’s possible some people don’t want to be hugged by him.

“If I get any feeling of resistance,” he says, “I don’t do it.”

But why do it at all?

Maybe it’s as simple as a politician’s need to be loved, which might explain why Hertzberg is something of a political chameleon.

He introduced legislation making San Fernando Valley secession possible, but was anti-secession.

He was once opposed to breaking up the Los Angeles Unified School District, but now the idea is one of the centerpieces of his candidacy, even though a mayor has no authority over city schools.

He’s a Democrat, but he jumped into Republican Gov. Schwarzenegger’s camp early on, and Richard Riordan, L.A.'s Republican former mayor, is one of his unofficial campaign consultants.

So who is Bob Hertzberg?

“It’s a fair question,” he says while we’re stuck in a horrendous traffic jam on Coldwater Canyon, headed to Art’s Deli.

He’s a big-picture guy who also knows the details, Hertzberg says. A guy who makes no apologies for hooking up with anyone who shares his desire to take risks and get things done.

Traffic is so bad, we realize we may not get to Art’s before the election, and I point out that nothing in Hertzberg’s 10-point Commuter’s Bill of Rights would get us out of this jam.

“Synchronized lights,” he says.

Is that the best you can do? Sounds like Hahn to me.

We finally chalked left on Ventura Boulevard.

“You look like a kid,” an Art’s waitress said as Hertzberg bounded in with a forward lean, ready to work the joint.

He schmoozed a half-dozen votes by my count, told me to always ask for the pickles they keep behind the counter and did a David Copperfield on his salami and eggs.

Standing up to leave, Hertzberg gave me the moon-faced smile. Then came the open arms.

Oh no.

*

Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at steve.lopez@latimes.com


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