A heated clash between two candidates amid claims of illegal fundraising is defining a state Assembly primary race in the San Fernando Valley.
Although four candidates are on the June 3 ballot for the Democratic nomination in the 40th Assembly District, which includes Northridge, West Hills and Van Nuys, much of the focus has been on Bob Blumenfield and Stuart Waldman. The latter claims his chief rival is illegally collecting campaign contributions from family members.
The other two Democrats, Laurette Healey and Dan McCrory, said they are trying to stay above the fray by sticking to issues important to the largely working-class area.
Because the district is overwhelmingly Democratic, whoever wins the nomination is all but assured the seat now held by Lloyd Levine, a Democrat from Van Nuys who is running for state Senate.
Running in the Republican primary are Armineh Chelebian, an accountant from Canoga Park, and Ken Sherman, a piano teacher from West Hills. Libertarian Pamela J. Brown, an economics professor from Northridge, is running unopposed.
Levine's father, Larry, is Blumenfield's campaign manager, and Waldman was Levine's chief of staff until he was fired last year. Neither Levine nor Waldman would talk about the firing, citing legal reasons, but Levine has endorsed Blumenfield.
The main dispute between Blumenfield and Waldman centers on "independent expenditures," those made on a candidate's behalf by sources outside the campaign. By law, independent expenditures cannot be coordinated with candidates.
Blumenfield's father, Michael Blumenfield, put $120,000 into an independent expenditure supporting his son, and Bob Blumenfield's sister-in-law gave $15,000. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Valley Village), for whom Bob Blumenfield worked as a district director until last month, contributed $100,000.
Waldman said he has a hard time believing the elder Blumenfield wouldn't discuss the expenditures with his son, especially because the two live across the street from each other in Woodland Hills.
Waldman's wife has filed two complaints against Blumenfield with the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Blumenfield denies there's been coordination with his father and points out that an independent expenditure committee funded by real estate professionals, dentists and other business interests has spent nearly $300,000 supporting Waldman.
Aside from the spending controversy, Blumenfield, 40, he said he would work to help the state secure federal funds for transportation projects and improve infrastructure, including roads and sewers.
"It's the best way to stimulate the economy: by investing in public infrastructure," Blumenfield said, citing statistics showing that for every dollar spent that way, seven go back into the economy.
He touts his 20 years of public policy experience, including helping to craft legislation for Berman that allowed victims of the 1994 Northridge earthquake to receive money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He has also been a Sacramento lobbyist for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
He said he wants to change the state budget process to a two-year cycle, with the first year devoted to setting the budget, the second to providing better oversight of how funds are distributed and spent.
Blumenfield has the most big-name endorsements: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, in addition to Berman and Levine.
Waldman called education the cornerstone of his candidacy, saying he wants to ensure that Valley schools receive adequate funding, that community college tuition remains affordable and that teachers are recruited and trained
Once chief of staff to former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, Waldman takes issue with what he calls a "hit piece" mail brochure from Blumenfield's campaign that questions his integrity in listing himself as an "educator" on the ballot.
"Stuart Waldman has no teaching credential or teacher training," the mailer states. "He worked on the political staff of two politicians for 11 years until he was fired a year ago."
Waldman, 39, said he has been paying his bills by working as a substitute teacher for private and charter schools. California does not require a substitute teachers to have credentials.
"The teaching experience has given me insight into the educational system to help me identify problems and solutions," said Waldman, who as a teenager dropped out of high school for a while but returned and graduated on time.
Healey, a former deputy state controller under Steve Westley, said she is content to let Waldman and Blumenfield battle it out.
"I don't want to be part of that. I'm running on my ideas and principles," she said.
Healey, 53, said she favors tax incentives to lure biotechnology companies to the area and keep entertainment industry jobs in the Valley.
And she would like to develop technical and vocational programs for community college and high school students. She also has plans to improve traffic by providing shuttles and small buses to carry residents to nearby grocery stores, day care centers and dry cleaners.
McCrory, of Reseda, who leads a freelance writers union, said he is running because he wants to help the residents of his district.
"There's nothing more noble than making sure the middle class is represented by one of our own," he said.
His top priorities would be to establish a single-payer healthcare system, provide improved college and vocational opportunities, and protect the environment, including cleaning up the former Rocketdyne missile testing site in the Simi Hills.