Runoff for Mayor Presents Voters In Los Angeles With Clear Choice


The next mayor of Los Angeles will be a conservative, white, 62-year-old millionaire, or a liberal, Asian, 41-year-old career politician.

The two men will square off in a runoff election June 8 that will present Los Angeles voters with their starkest contrast between mayoral candidates in more than 20 years. They got into the runoff by coming out on top of a 24-candidate field in Tuesday's primary. Mr. Riordan received 33 percent of the vote and Mr. Woo won 24 percent.

"Riordan is seen as the old-guard, male-dominated establishment candidate, and Woo the multiethnic coalition builder," says Allan Hoffenblum, a Los Angeles political consultant. "Each has a different agenda and a different way to get there."

While the outcome of the election will be heavy in symbolism, it may not affect the running of City Hall that much. Under the city charter, the mayor has relatively little power compared to the eight-member City Council and the city manager.

"Both candidates have been promising change, change, change, from the [Mayor Tom] Bradley years," says Susan Estrich, a law professor at the University of Southern California (USC). But Ms. Estrich, who was Michael Dukakis's campaign manager in 1988, points out that Woo has been a member of the City Council for eight years and Riordan has worked closely with Mayor Bradley. "It's hard to believe the total picture will be all that different. They are both a product of the same system," she says.

In the six-week runoff campaign, Riordan and Woo must lasso votes that went to other candidates in the wide-open primary. They will be aided by the fact that, with the Rodney King trial over, voters will be able to concentrate on the mayor's race.

"Now the voters can really focus on the candidates," says Larry Berg, a USC political scientist. "Because of the King trial and so many entrants, this has been a nonelection so far."

No matter who wins the runoff, the next mayor will confront a lingering recession and burgeoning population that is straining the resources of city government.

Riordan claims he is "tough enough to turn L.A. around." The core of his plan is to rent the airport to private industry and use the money to hire extra police officers. He also has proposed a 20-point plan to streamline city permitting to attract business, develop high-technology, and fund enterprise zones. His answer to the city's growing ethnic alienation is to provide better leadership as well as education and job training.

Woo has built a broad coalition of supporters among Asian-Americans, the entertainment industry, gays, labor unions, and blacks. He has tried to project himself as the candidate best qualified to ease the city's social tensions.

Woo says his first major action in office would be to declare an economic state of emergency and appoint an economic czar to lead all municipal development efforts. Woo promises to provide $100 million in city-guaranteed loans to businesses in South Central L.A.

Whether each candidate can successfully project his message depends on campaign financing. Woo has attracted the largest number of donors - over 5,000 - but Riordan can tap his $100 million fortune. That has become a campaign issue.

Riordan has "spent $3 million already, which means he has $97 million left," complains Garry South, Woo's communications director. "We will be hitting home that Dick Riordan is trying to buy this election."

But Joe Scott, Riordan's communications director, counters: "Riordan has had to spend some money to level the playing field [because] he ran against so many known politicians. We intend to run a positive campaign based on issues: safety, jobs, education."

In other voting Tuesday, a closely watched ballot initiative that would have put 1,000 more police officers on the street was defeated by voters unwilling to see their property taxes raised. But voters passed term limits for city officials. (Analysis, Page 3.)

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