Until 19 months ago, Los Angeles mayoral candidate Walter Moore was not the slightest bit interested in city government. To him, it dealt with the dull and quotidian. As he put it: “Sewage pipes, sidewalks, streets -- who cares?”
Then in July 2003, the Westchester lawyer read that Mayor James K. Hahn wanted to spend $9 billion to modernize Los Angeles International Airport.
This affected him in an unusual way.
He became angry -- and then he became engrossed.
“Having someone tell you it’s going to cost $9 billion to remodel one structure set off all my B.S. detectors,” he said, pointing out that the price tag on the renovation has since climbed to $11 billion.
Within a month, he had transformed himself from one of the thousands -- perhaps hundreds of thousands -- of Los Angeles residents who barely know the mayor’s name into a candidate for mayor.
On Aug. 3, 2003, Moore, a Republican who has never held elected office, filed papers to run against Hahn.
For the most part, the Los Angeles political establishment took no notice. Hahn faces 11 opponents on March 8, but only four of them -- state Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sun Valley), former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, and Councilmen Bernard C. Parks and Antonio Villaraigosa -- have the campaign funding and name recognition to receive consistent attention from the media and the city’s political commentators.
But Moore, 45, has tried hard to raise his profile. He has lent $100,000 to his campaign and has talked his way into a few of the debates between Hahn and his four main challengers.
At those events, he has charmed some in the audience with his quirky sense of humor and his unorthodox approach to municipal problems. He won some laughs and nods last month with his proposal to raise money by selling off the city’s art collection on EBay.
And while few besides Moore think he has a chance of becoming mayor of the nation’s second-largest city, some political analysts say the maverick lawyer could be a factor in the race.
“He’s risen a level above all the other fringe candidates. He’s semi-fringe,” said a consultant for one of the major contenders.
The year and a half of campaigning appears to have turned Moore into something of a populist. In conversation, he sometimes compares himself to the nation’s founding fathers.
“This city government, the political parties and the media care about nothing but money,” he said. “The disconnect is between the people running City Hall and the paper and the taxpaying citizens.”
In a contest where the five main candidates are Democrats, Moore, as a Republican, could pull some votes away from Hahn or Hertzberg, who appeal to the city’s conservative voters.
Moore, though, has not exactly impressed all of his compatriots. Earlier this month, the executive committee of the county Republican Party voted 30 to 7 against endorsing him.
But if Moore uses his money (he had $94,193.56 as of Feb. 19) to let voters know he’s Republican, he could make a dent.
“You can always get some traction with $100,000,” said Raphael Sonenshein, a professor of political science at Cal State Fullerton. Still, Sonenshein was quick to say that Moore was notable mainly as “the symbolic marker of the fact that there is no Republican candidate in the race.”
No prominent Republican chose to run. Four years ago, Republican Steve Soboroff, who lent himself hundreds of thousands of dollars, nearly captured a place in the runoff.
With a wave of his hand and a firm set of his jaw, Moore brushes aside talk that he doesn’t have a chance. “I know I’m going to win,” he said recently. “I’m the best qualified for the job, and the only one who does not owe $1 million in favors to special interests.”
Meg Aguello, a retired Northridge resident, agrees. She eagerly accepted a Moore bumper sticker after watching Moore at a debate.
“I’m going to put it on my car,” she said. “It would certainly be a breath of fresh air to have a man like that in City Hall.”
In January, Moore won the endorsement of the city’s animal rights activists group, Citizens for a Humane Los Angeles. Many in the group had backed Villaraigosa in 2001. One plank of Moore’s campaign is a pledge to end euthanasia in the city’s shelters, but he also won the hearts of the activists by informing them that he “used to be married to one of those cat women.”
Raised in Tallahassee, Fla., by a single mother, Moore graduated from Princeton University and Georgetown University Law School.
He moved to L.A. in 1984 and works as a trial lawyer for a small firm in Westchester, earning enough to take eight months off and pump $100,000 into his campaign.
He says voters should pick him because he is smart, committed and honest. And, he says, unlike his opponents, he is running because he wants to fix problems, not because he can’t “make it in the real world.”
“Most of the problems we have are not due to complexity, but to corruption,” he said. “If we just had some honest people in there, focusing on the basics, it’s not that hard to pave streets.”
But during an interview that he arranged recently on his boat, the Yeah Baby, it becomes evident that Moore delights in an unconventional approach. This is clear from the moment he presents his campaign spokeswoman, Judy Hyler Moore.
They have the same last name, he explains, because, although their relationship began as a professional friendship, they recently eloped in Las Vegas, where they were married with an Elvis impersonator as their witness.
“Yeah Baby, the best endorsement yet!” he quipped.
In his campaign literature, he presents himself as a revolutionary fighting the entrenched interests in City Hall.
It is his disgust with the airport plan and “corrupt ‘pay to play’ politics” that drew him into the race, Moore’s website says.
“As the British learned the hard way in 1776,” he says, “you can only push taxpayers so far before they’ll fight back.”
On a recent evening in a dank high school gym in the northwest San Fernando Valley, Moore fought back. Ignoring the smiles and politesse extended to him by Alarcon, Parks and Villaraigosa, Moore turned on them. “They’re addicted to spending your money,” he announced. “They’ve had their chance. Give me the chance.”
Moore also differs sharply from the five major candidates in his stance on illegal immigration. He thinks the city should take an active role in pursuing and deporting illegal immigrants.
“Am I just mean?” he asked. “Am I racist? No. Illegal immigration is bankrupting us.”
In a video spot on his website, he bluntly states: “I don’t speak Spanish, and I don’t intend to learn.”
When Moore began talking about immigration on a radio debate last week, he accomplished something unusual: He forced Hahn and some of his challengers to admit that they agree with one another.