Krekorian, Essel make final push

Assemblyman Paul Krekorian (D-Los Angeles) is hoping a final campaign push for votes will put him over the top in a runoff election Tuesday for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council, a development that would open the doors for a race to replace him in the Legislature.

Two Assembly hopefuls, including one Democrat and one Republican, have already publicly stated their interest in the seat and have begun setting the stage for a special election should Krekorian win on Tuesday.

But political observers say Krekorian’s odds have become muddled as campaigning has grown increasingly heated in recent weeks.

Krekorian and his opponent, former Paramount Pictures executive Chris Essel, campaigned heavily by mail and on foot in an attempt to pick up votes they may have previously conceded to other candidates in a 10-person primary election in September.

Krekorian had the majority of votes in that race, with 34% of the final tally, followed by Essel, who had 28% of the total.

Although Krekorian has since earned the endorsements of the third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishers in that race, Essel has been backed by a total of more than $1.5 million in campaign spending, nearly triple the $586,000 spent on Krekorian’s behalf.

“Not only does it concern me,” Krekorian said, “I think it should concern everyone in the city of Los Angeles and everywhere else when this amount of money gets spent to try to change the outcome of the election.”

Essel, in a statement, argued there was nothing wrong with the campaign spending.

“The vast majority of the independent expenditures supporting my campaign have come from the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents the LAPD’s 9,900 sworn officers,” she said.

Each camp has accused the other of distributing false statements and political smears.

Essel’s campaign filed a police report alleging that a letter sent to her by then-Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa was stolen. Material from the letter was used in a campaign mailer. Krekorian said the letter was printed on the then-speaker’s letterhead and was therefore public information.

Krekorian intervened in a lawsuit filed by a political committee, Working Californians, which had planned to support Essel, but argued that Los Angeles city ethics laws limiting contributions to a political committee to $500 per donor was unconstitutional and limited free speech laws.

A judge ruled against the group.

The fierce competition for votes amid high campaign spending on mailers and advertisements has turned what many observers considered would be a certain Krekorian victory into a much closer contest, they said.

“It’s kind of a difficult election, I guess,” said Jane Barnett, chairwoman of the Los Angeles County Republican Party, which is supporting no candidates in the council race.

Barnett previously said Krekorian may be favored.

“It’s a lot of money being spent and I don’t really know who is going to win,” she said.

Regardless of the outcome, Republicans will be vying to replace Krekorian, either in a special election or in November 2010, Barnett said.

The party has endorsed former Burbank Chamber of Commerce Chairman Sundar Ramani, who also advises a range of community groups in Glendale and Burbank, for the Assembly seat, she said.

Although other potential candidates came forward at a meeting of community Republicans last month, Ramani emerged as the person most likely to earn broad support in the 43rd Assembly District, she said.

One Democrat, Mike Gatto, former district director for Rep. Brad Sherman, has also publicly stated his intent to run.

If Krekorian moves on to the Los Angeles City Council, where he would represent a district that stretches from Sherman Oaks to Tujunga, the race for the Assembly seat would be hotly contested, said Lee Wochner, a founding member of the Burbank Democratic Club.

“It’s going to be a serious election because there is a lot at stake,” Wochner said.

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