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    News / Perspective

    Gathering Storm In Council Race:

  • Candidate Parker Says Mayor Foster Didn't Trust 6th Dist. Voters To Make Their Own Decision In Endorsing Austin
  • Candidate Saafir Is Endorsed By Former Mayor O'Neill, Sets Major Fundraiser

    (March 13, 2007) -- 6th district Council candidate Lillian Parker is taking aim at LB Mayor Bob Foster for, she says, not trusting 6th district residents to make their own decision in the election, reflected in his March 10 endorsement of Al Austin, one of seven candidates in the race.

    "I'm disappointed that the Mayor didn't allow democracy to take place and he didn't trust the residents of the 6th district to make their own decision. He used his position and his party affiliation to influence the community and stripped the voice of the people," Ms. Parker told added:

    "I feel encouraged that the Austin campaign felt the need to do something like this, that they feel they need the Mayor's endorsement to try and gain some kind of leverage. They know the community trusts the Mayor and must have felt they needed some of that for themselves."

    What about former Mayor Beverly O'Neill endorsing candidate Ahmed Carl Saafir? "I'd make the same points regarding the former Mayor...and the apparent need felt by the Saafir campaign for her endorsement," Ms. Parker replied.

    Less diplomatic is Parker supporter Annie Greenfeld-Wisner, a South Wrigley activist who, like Foster, is a native New Yorker...and doesn't mince words about Hizzoner's endorsement of Mr. Austin.

    "I think it stinks," she told "The Mayor is in charge of running the 6th district Council office while it's vacant at the same time he's simultaneously telling 6th district residents whom we should vote for. I think that's a conflict. Even former Mayor O'Neill didn't try that when she oversaw 2nd district affairs while that office was vacant."

    Mayor Foster's appearance in the race is one of several indications that the 6th district election is turning into a polarizing political slugfest. At stake is a potential key swing Council vote on development and policy issues citywide.

    At last tally, the Sixth Council district had the fewest number of registered voters in LB...and its voter turnout in prior elections has been among the lowest in the city. The net effect: a small number of 6th district voters in this Council race could have major citywide impacts for interest groups far beyond Central LB.

    The LB Area Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Mr. Saafir, who's scheduled a March 23 fundraiser co-chaired by former Mayor O'Neill (who appointed him to the Civil Service Commission) along with former 6th district Councilwoman Doris Topsy-Elvord (whom O'Neill appointed to the Harbor Commission). [In 2006, O'Neill and Topsy-Elvord both endorsed Frank Colonna for Mayor, who lost to Foster.]

    Co-chairs for the Saafir fundraiser include another O'Neill appointee, Harbor Commissioner Dr. Mike Walter, plus LB Chamber of Commerce Board chair Byron Schweigert (Chief Education/Gov't Affairs for MemorialCare Med Centers) and Chris Pook, Executive Director of the privately run Sea Festival Association which gained Council approval during the O'Neill administration to bring major summertime events to LB. Contribution levels for the Saafir fundraiser are listed on the campaign's web site as $1,000, $500 and $250.

    The LB Chamber of Commerce leadership strongly backed candidate-Foster's successful 2006 run for Mayor...and the Chamber's leadership also recently endorsed all the ballot measures on a special May 1 citywide ballot (all of which Foster supports, including a measure that would increase his Mayoral powers).

    But on March 10, Mayor Foster broke with the Chamber on the 6th district Council race in endorsing Al Austin. "I'm not only endorsing him. I'm enthusiastically endorsing him and I think it's essential that he win this election," Mayor Foster said.

    That triggered seismic waves felt in a number of downtown LB offices...since Mr. Austin works for a major public employee union (American Fed'n of State, County & Municipal Employees) and brings union political horsepower to the campaign including support from the LB Police Officers Ass'n, LB Firefighters Ass'n and the L.A. County Federation of Labor.

    The Chamber's leadership has taken management positions [the Chamber would say the consumers' side] in two recent disputes with the current labor-leaning Council majority. The Chamber backed petition-gathered referenda campaigns that suspended Council-enacted ordinances which tried to ban certain "big box" operations and require "labor peace" agreements at two non-unionized hotels on city property.

    The Chamber said its petition campaigns, which gathered voter signatures gathered using corporate resources, were examples of democracy in action.

    Asked at a recent Wrigley Association candidates forum about their respective ties to labor unions (Austin) and the Chamber (Saafir), Mr. Saafir said bluntly that he was independent and made up his own mind on issues. Mr. Austin said he was proud to have the labor endorsements, reiterated his support for good paying jobs and noted that a large number of 6th district residents are union members.

    The Austin campaign web site also indicates another significant endorsement likely to be highlighted in the coming weeks: immediate past 6th district Councilwoman Laura Richardson has endorsed Mr. Austin.

    Richardson was reelected to a second Council term in April 2004 without a runoff despite a field of multiple challengers. At the same time, a number of activists in the Wrigley area (the southern part of which is in the 6th Council district) have collided with her on several issues. At the press event announcing Mayor Foster's endorsement, Mr. Austin made a point of introducing Assemblywoman Betty Karnette (D., LB)...and she stressed that she lives in the Wrigley area and supports Mr. Austin. For his part, Mr. Austin declared himself the consensus candidate in the race.

    Councilwoman Richardson's successful 2006 Assembly bid listed contributions from a number of familiar LB names including LB Harbor Commissioners James Hankla, Mario Cordero, Mike Walter, John Hancock and retired LB Harbor Comm'nr Roy Hearrean, Becky Blair [then-2d dist. LB City Council candidate], LB Police Officers Assoc PAC & LB Firefighters PAC, Sea Festival Exec. Dir. Christopher Pook and prominent LB lawyer Samuel ("Skip") Keesal Jr.

    After demolishing a Democrat opponent in June and coasting to victory in November in the Democrat-drawn Assembly district, one of Richardson's last acts as a Councilperson was to vote for the labor peace ordinance. That vote further polarized some LB business interests already smarting over the reelection of 7th district Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga over a Chamber-backed opponent and the loss of Chamber backed Becky Blair to School Board President Suja Lowenthal in a 2nd district 2006 "winner take all" special election.

    Suja Lowenthal's Council bid was boosted by an independent expenditure (funds not given to or controlled by Lowenthal's campaign) of $30,000+ by the UniteHere! union...which backed the "labor peace" ordinance [which would effectively help the union's organizing efforts at two non-unionized hotels on city property.] Once elected to the Council, Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal was among the five votes that enacted the "labor peace" ordinance and also separately voted with a Council majority to ban certain "big box" retailing operations.

    Under LB's voter approved (1992) Proposition M, contributions to Council candidates' campaigns in the special 6th district Council election are $1,000 per individual or business and $2,500 per bona fide Political Action Committees.

    However, there is no longer any limit for contributions to "independent" campaigns, if they're run by entities or persons entirely separate from the candidate, who are free independently to support or oppose a candidate in the race.

    That loophole was created by the Chamber of Commerce, which filed a lawsuit and obtained an injunction (trial is still pending) that has for now suspended Prop M's restriction on "independent" campaign activity as violative of political speech protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

    The real world result backfired on the Chamber...when the UniteHere! union used the Chamber-created loophole to fund an independent campaign that (separate from candidate Lowenthal's campaign) independently helped elect Lowenthal to the 2nd district Council seat.

    How a major-moneyed "Clash of the Titans" will play out in the working class 6th Council district in the winner-take-all race remains to be seen.

    How is candidate Parker responding? "I encourage every resident in the community to seek out information on the different candidates, to verify their information, before selecting the candidate of their choice...and I trust the people will make the right decision," she said.

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