L.A. Mayoral Contest: Voters Look for `Neither'

Candidates lashed out at each other in a harsh, negative campaign that left many voters looking for another lever to pull

`NONE of the above."

This city votes today in its first mayoral election in 64 years without an incumbent. But high voter apathy combined with general disgust over the highly personal, mudslinging campaigns of candidates Michael Woo and Richard Riordan have left many voters wishing they could pull a lever for neither.

"There's a reign of apathy out there," says Larry Berg, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

Noting two recent major polls in which respondents gave higher unfavorable than favorable ratings to both candidates, Mr. Berg says, "this kind of disgust with what the candidates are doing and saying has major ramifications for whoever wins. Neither will have an easy time of it."

The public and the pundits alike characterize the race here as one between candidates who have not articulated their visions for the city but offer different personal and professional styles.

Riordan is a 63-year-old Princeton graduate who made millions in commercial enterprises and presents himself as a conservative, get-it-done problem solver. Different personal styles

Woo, a 41-year-old Chinese immigrant, has spent eight years on the City Council and presents himself as a coalition-builder, liberal, and a person who can compromise with the city's new ethnic leaders.

The two were winnowed out of a field of 24 candidates in voting here April 20.

The final weeks of the campaign have been characterized by media and mail blitzes by both candidates. Using color brochures sent to homes and purchased television air time, Mr. Woo has been able to whittle away a lead once enjoyed by Mr. Riordan. Commercials highlight Riordan's three drunk-driving arrests prior to 1975.

They also question Riordan's assertion of having "created tens of thousands of local jobs," instead citing independent studies claiming "Riordan has thrown thousands of people out of work ... to make a fast profit in junk-bond deals and leveraged buy-outs."

Riordan, in turn, paints Woo as a do-nothing city councilman who let thousands of jobs flee his district in Hollywood, someone who is soft on crime, and a city insider who is part of Los Angeles' past problems.

The personal attacks have carried over to several campaign debates in which the candidates have lashed out at each other, and virtually ignored platform agendas. Similar goals

Both want to attract businesses and jobs back to Los Angeles by cutting through excessive governmental regulation, to put thousands more police on the streets, to improve multicultural harmony, and get a stumbling education system back on its feet. But differing ideas on how to achieve these ends have been drowned out of the debates.

"Given these negative campaigns, the city feels that neither one is the candidate they should want or get," says Richard Zeiger, editor of the California Journal. "Neither has been able to elevate the debate to something that seems relevant. Whoever wins will be immediately vulnerable, politically."

In a Los Angeles Times Poll released last week, 50 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with their choice, 57 percent said they were voting for the lesser of two evils, and 56 percent said the campaign has been too negative for their personal tastes.

"When you get something in the mail and it says nothing about your own candidate and everything bad about your opponent, what are you supposed to think?" says Wanda Horzsowski, a resident of Sherman Oaks.

With one week to go before voting, the two most recent polls showed the candidates neck and neck. Dead heat in polls

The L.A. Times Poll had Woo leading Riordan 48 percent to 38 percent among all registered voters but 46 percent to 46 percent among those most likely to turn out to vote.

"The election will turn on whether or not Mike Woo can get his backers in the African-American and Hispanic communities into the voting booth," says Sherry Jeffe, a political scientist at the Claremont Graduate School.

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