L.A. mayoral campaign marked by bitterness ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

May 27, 1993|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

LOS ANGELES -- The large poster for Republican mayoral candidate Richard Riordan stands against the wall in the headquarters office of his campaign manager, Jadine Nielsen. Affixed to it is a printed swastika, the symbol of Nazism, of a violent past never forgotten, especially by Jews here and everywhere.

As the June 8 runoff election approaches between nonpartisan primary winner Riordan and the runner-up, Democratic City Councilman Michael Woo, it has become a symbol as well of the bitterness and negativism of the campaign in this city already gripped by racial and ethnic animosities and fears after the Rodney King police brutality nightmare.

Riordan does not accuse the Woo campaign of being directly responsible for sticking the swastika on this and other Riordan posters and yard signs that have blanketed the city. But he told the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles the other day that the swastika incident "is the logical result of the kind of campaign he [Woo] has been waging."

Riordan referred to an inflammatory Woo television commercial showing television evangelist Pat Robertson and charging that Robertson "and his right-wing fundamentalist Christian Coalition" were "working for Dick Riordan." The ad based its charge on a Los Angeles Times story citing a Christian Coalition spokesman saying the organization was involved in the mayoral race. But the spokesman said later it had only circulated nonpartisan voter guides and was not directly participating in the Riordan campaign.

The Woo campaign continued to run the ad and Woo himself defended it in a subsequent appearance before the same Jewish audience, saying it was "outrageous" for Riordan to blame the swastika incident on his campaign and demanding an apology. Riordan, however, has stuck to his guns and the mutual rancor has continued.

The Woo campaign insists that Riordan started the television mud-slinging with a graphic ad of his own implying that Woo, whose council district includes a Hollywood gripped by street crime, is weak on combating the issue that is at the forefront of voters' minds.

The swastika incident has taken on an ominous tone in light of the fact that the Jewish vote, normally overwhelmingly Democratic, appears to be split between Woo and Riordan this time around, and Woo must win a larger segment of it if he hopes to upset the much better financed Riordan.

A private poll for the Democratic National Committee by the firm of Stan Greenberg, President Clinton's pollster, says of this critical vote: "Woo's margin among these traditional liberal, Democratic voters is razor-thin." The poll says Woo currently gets 43 percent of the Jewish vote and needs 10 percent more. Some 19 percent of those surveyed, it says, are undecided and (( 17 percent are "weak Riordan voters."

Riordan's appeal to Jewish voters appears to stem from the same wellspring as it does to other Los Angelenos -- a sense that the 62-year-old successful businessman will be tougher on street crime by getting more police on the streets. The poster defaced by the swastika sticker bears his slogan: "Tough Enough to Turn L.A. Around."

Riordan's scheme to lease Los Angeles International Airport in a private-public partnership, and raise enough money to hire up to 3,000 more cops, is ridiculed as fantasy by Woo, but it sounds like easy money to voters who want more protection without paying higher taxes.

The Woo ad referring to Robertson clearly is designed to make voters, and especially Jewish voters, nervous about the religious right, wary of Riordan. The Woo campaign also hopes that Riordan's endorsement by former President Ronald Reagan will give liberal voters second thoughts.

By the same token, the Woo strategists hope the recent endorsement of Woo by President Clinton will give a big boost to the man who seeks to be the city's first Asian-American mayor.

Clinton, however, seemed in that endorsement to go out of his way to be kind to Riordan, whose campaign is being run by key 1992 Clinton workers in California, including Nielsen.

There has been, however, an overabundance of negativism aimed at the opposition from each camp.

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