L.A. council colleagues unhappy over Weiss campaign mailer

A new campaign mailer from City Councilman Jack Weiss, a city attorney candidate, sparked unusually heated criticism from several of his council colleagues Tuesday with the election just three weeks away.

The brochure sent to voters early this month became the source of whispered conversations on the council floor in City Hall as colleagues passed around copies. Several said they felt it unfairly portrayed Weiss as the lone leader pursuing funds to help clear a police backlog of untested DNA evidence in rape cases.

Councilman Dennis Zine, who has chilly relations with Weiss, accused Weiss of capitalizing “on this tragedy of rape survivors.”

Weiss campaign consultant Ace Smith cried foul and said it was indisputable that the councilman has long been a leader in trying to speed the Los Angeles Police Department’s processing of rape case evidence.

Smith characterized the criticism as “swift-boat attacks” that “cannot erase” Weiss’ record of leadership on DNA issues.

LAPD Chief William J. Bratton also recently said that Weiss “led the charge” on the issue.

The mailer touts Weiss’ leadership on the issue over the last seven years and as chairman of the council’s Public Safety committee, where he has asked police officials to make weekly reports on the DNA backlog for more than a year. Zine and other city officials took issue with the mailer’s statement that “Weiss’ leadership changed police procedures on DNA testing in rape cases.”

Others were surprised by the comments of rape survivor Jeri Elster, who is quoted as saying she tried to contact other City Council members on the DNA issue “but only Jack Weiss would listen.”

Zine, who also sits on the Public Safety committee, has endorsed Carmen Trutanich in the race. He characterized the mailer as propaganda and criticized the timing of Weiss’ allocation of his own district’s funds -- $100,000 in December 2007 and $250,000 in November 2008 -- to test hundreds of additional rape kits.

“Why does he wait until it’s politically advantageous for his run for city attorney?” Zine said. “This is reflective of an egotistical individual who will do anything to try to convince voters to elect him to public office. . . . His leadership didn’t change anything.”

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents downtown Los Angeles, said after seeing the mailer she was glad she hadn’t endorsed Weiss.

“It’s disappointing. We all fought and agree and voted on funds for rape kits and to get testing done more quickly -- it was a council effort, not led by one particular individual,” Perry said. “I don’t think you’d find anybody that would disagree with finding the funds for rape kits and responding to people who are survivors of violence like rape.”

City Controller Laura Chick, whose audit of the DNA backlog brought attention to the issue last fall, said she was irked by Weiss’ television ads highlighting his work on DNA issues. The narrator is Elster, who praises Weiss for “personally fighting to get thousands of rape kits tested and earning the gratitude of every woman who has ever been through the nightmare of rape.”

Chick, speaking about the ads in a recent interview, said, “I think they’re an enormous stretch, and I find them offensive.” The ads struck a chord because she feels city officials have still failed to make the clearing of the backlog a priority by providing more money to the police crime lab.

“This year’s budget presented a step forward to begin to give LAPD more of the crime analysis staff and other resources they need in the crime lab,” Chick said. “But it’s a step; it was not solving the problem.”

A number of council members said Tuesday that they also did not recall Elster contacting their offices. In a telephone interview, Elster declined to say which offices were unresponsive.

She said she agreed to be featured in Weiss’ campaign literature because “he’s really rallied the troops” on the rape kit issue. “I would never have come out for somebody to the level I had if he wasn’t the only person that listened,” Elster added.

The public record shows that in 2002, Weiss called for the Police Department to bar the destruction of DNA evidence.

He later pushed the department to test every rape kit. Both are now LAPD policy.

In 2003, he called for setting aside millions of dollars to help clear the DNA backlog; he later drafted a staffing plan to add 56 positions over a four-year period. This past fall, Weiss spearheaded efforts with council President Eric Garcetti to secure $700,000 to fill 16 new positions in LAPD’s crime lab this fiscal year -- a move supported by the rest of the council.

After a recent news conference where he endorsed Weiss, Bratton credited the councilman with helping to find the money to expand the crime lab.

“I wish his colleagues were as attentive to it as he has been all of the six years I’ve been here,” Bratton said. “Year after year, he sought to try to expand our capacities, and year after year . . . we did not get all that we had sought, but not from any lack of any effort on his part.”