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As L.A. Election Looms, Voters Uncertain, Unmoved

Times Staff Writers

Aba Ramirez is raising four boys in Boyle Heights, trying to make sure they stay out of trouble and get a good education.

The 37-year-old mother knows what problems confront Los Angeles. What is less clear, she said Sunday afternoon as her sons ping-ponged around the parking lot at El 7 Mares restaurant on Cesar Chavez Avenue, is which mayoral candidate can do something about them.

“Oh God, that’s so hard,” she said. In grappling with the dozen names on the ballot, Ramirez echoed the sentiments of many Los Angeles voters. In scores of interviews, voters from Venice to Sherman Oaks to East Los Angeles expressed a consensus about the city’s ills. Angelenos want better public schools and safer neighborhoods. And they are absolutely desperate for something -- anything at all -- to be done to fix traffic.

But two days before voters head to the polls in a tightly contested mayoral election, many are undecided or lack passion about their choice. None of the major candidates, many voters said Sunday, has made a clearly compelling case that he should be the city’s next mayor.

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“Each one has his own faults,” said Ramirez, who has decided on her councilman, Antonio Villaraigosa, as the best choice.

Aware that the race has not seized the city’s imagination, Mayor James K. Hahn and his challengers darted around L.A. at a fast clip Sunday, attending church services, psyching up supporters and invading delis to remind diners to vote.

Many voters, meanwhile, confessed that, despite the barrage of television advertising and mailers, they’ve still got, as one college student put it, “a lot of research to do.”

Quite a few might just stay home. The city clerk expects just a third of the city’s voters to turn out Tuesday.

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“I’ve got to decide: Does Hahn deserve another term or not?” said Jay Holladay, 68, a Tujunga resident volunteering near the Los Angeles Marathon finish line.

Hahn strikes him as a “quiet worker,” said the engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Villaraigosa, on the other hand, “seems to relate to people more, and he might get more done.” And then there is Bob Hertzberg, a Sherman Oaks lawyer who is “sort of an activist, and he’s going to push the Valley.”

Holladay said he didn’t know much about Richard Alarcon, the state senator from Sun Valley, and he thinks Councilman Bernard C. Parks, the former police chief, is not enough of a politician.

“I’ll probably decide at the last minute,” he said. “My wife’s saying Hahn’s not so bad, he deserves another term, but I’m not so sure yet.”

Ian Kerr, 63, is equally unimpressed.

“I’m not particularly moved by any candidate,” he said, walking down the Venice boardwalk as he tossed a ball to Schaeffer, his rambunctious German shepherd. “I don’t think Hahn has done a particularly good job, nor do I think anyone in the field is really outstanding.”

After mulling his options, Kerr said, “When it comes down to it, I will vote for the incumbent. It’ll be a vote for the lesser of evils, I guess, or the evil we know.”

CeCe Coman is also voting for the incumbent, but with a little more enthusiasm. “I’ve seen fire, flood, storm, riot,” she said recently as her dog frolicked in the Silver Lake dog park, as she recalled her many years in Los Angeles. “The city of L.A. is so complex and so diverse, you need someone of Hahn’s experience.”

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But across the city, other voters have come to the opposite conclusion.

Bill Wheeler, who lives in Highland Park and moved to L.A. in 1969, said he doesn’t know whom he will vote for. But he’s sure of one thing: “It won’t be Hahn,” he said. “I just don’t like what he’s done. He hasn’t done much.”

Some voters think the result won’t matter much.

“I think they all talk a good game,” said Jon Noble, 39, a Sherman Oaks resident who is leaning toward Hertzberg. “But I don’t think anyone’s going to produce different results.”

In this hard-fought race among candidates who are so politically alike -- the top five are liberal to moderate Democrats -- that some used to be allies, voters with similar concerns find themselves drawn to different candidates.

Devin Martinez has no doubt about his choice: It’s Villaraigosa all the way. “I think he’s the right man for Los Angeles,” said Martinez, 20, who, in a black suit, white shirt and dark sunglasses was working security for the premiere of the movie “Robots” at the Bruin theater in Westwood Village.

Martinez said he attended a political event with Villaraigosa in Highland Park. “I like the way he works with the community and think he would do much better at reaching out,” he said.

Martinez said the next mayor needs to do something about the Police Department’s response times.

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“My girlfriend’s mother had her car broken into, and they put her on hold,” he complained.

Maury and Wilfred Sumlin, two brothers who live in South Los Angeles, agreed that the city needs more police officers. But they think Hertzberg is the one to do it.

Wilfred Sumlin, who works for the Department of Water and Power, also added that he wants the next mayor to do something about waste in city government.

And then there are residents such as Ruth Smith, 57.

The South Los Angeles resident said she has been a dedicated voter for three decades. But the presidential election last November, which left President Bush in the White House, soured her on politics, and she plans to sit this election out.

“I don’t have any hope,” she said, adding that the mayoral candidates failed to restore it. “I’m not impressed by these guys,” she said, noting that she throws their campaign mailers straight into the garbage. “I don’t trust any of them.”

But other voters swear that, although they have not been paying a lot of attention, they plan to give the matter great study between now and when the polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

“I have to do some last-minute research,” said Luis Cisneros, 19, who was walking down Cesar Chavez Avenue on Sunday seeking help for his ailing pet cockatiel.

But Cisneros, who named education and healthcare as his top issues, said he has faith in the electorate.

“Hopefully, the people know what they’re doing,” he said. “They know what to vote for.”

Times staff writers Jeffrey L. Rabin and Carla Rivera contributed to this report.


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