For the first time in modern L.A. history, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce is actually endorsing candidates in local city elections.

Late last month, the L.A. Chamber's Political Action Committee revived two years ago for the charter reform battle, after decades of inactivity issued a slate of endorsements for the L.A. City Council races on the April 10 primary election ballot. Getting the chamber nod were:

- Francine Oschin, chief of staff to Councilman Hal Bernson, for the Third District council seat now held by termed-out Laura Chick (who is running for City Controller);

- Former federal prosecutor Jack Weiss for the Fifth District seat being vacated by Mike Feuer (who is running for City Attorney);

- Jan Perry in the Ninth District now held by termed-out Rita Walters;

- Former City Councilman Mike Woo for the 13th District seat now vacant after Jackie Goldberg won election to the state Assembly; and

- Hahn family scion Janice Hahn, who is running for the 15th District seat being vacated by Rudy Svorinich.

The chamber is also endorsing the two incumbents running for re-election: Alex Padilla in the Seventh District and Cindy Miscikowski in the 11th District. Padilla is running unopposed, while Miscikowski has what is widely regarded as token opposition.

Noticeably absent from the chamber endorsements are any candidates for citywide office, including the hotly contested mayor's race.

That's by design, according to Anita Zusman, vice president of legislative affairs for the chamber. And, she said, it's not because chamber PAC members are hopelessly divided or for some other political reason.

"We made a strategic decision over a year ago that we would not endorse any candidates for citywide office in the primary elections; those would wait for the runoffs in June," Zusman said. "It was an issue of focusing our resources, since this was our first time out endorsing candidates."

New Chamber President

Speaking of the chamber, former Bank of America executive Thomas Decker has been named the chamber's interim president, replacing Ezunial "Eze" Burts, who resigned last month.

Decker, now an independent business consultant, was BofA's community liaison until the bank was acquired by Charlotte, N.C.-based Nation's Bank in 1999. He has long served on the chamber's board, becoming chairman for a one-year term in 1999. He also has served one-year terms as chairman of both the Central City Association and the Economic Development Corp. of L.A. County.

"One of our top priorities is to form closer relationships with the CCA and the EDC, and that was a big part of the reason we chose Tom," said current chamber chairman Charles Woo, who is also president of Megatoys Inc.

Woo said the appointment of Decker will give the chamber some breathing room as it undertakes a nationwide search for a permanent president.

Polanco Rumors

Ever since state Sen. Richard Polanco suddenly withdrew from the First District City Council race on Feb. 21, rumors have been flying all over the city about what might be his true reasons for bowing out. Virtually everybody conceded that the Senate Majority Leader was a lock to win the election outright without having to go to a runoff. In fact, before the surprise announcement, the prevailing talk was about how Polanco would bring a strong new liberal voice to City Hall.

Polanco's stated reasons for withdrawing that he wanted to fulfill his duties in the Senate and that he is considering business opportunities haven't satisfied anybody. If those were indeed the reasons, then why did he decide a mere six weeks earlier to enter the race in the first place? Surely he must have thought this through before entering the race.

"Something else must be going on," said political observer Sherry Bebitch Jeffe. "It just doesn't add up. Someone that shrewd and skillful just doesn't wake up one day and decide he doesn't want to run for a certain office. There must be something that he doesn't want to get out."

As for what that something else might be, speculation and wild rumors have been rampant. Indeed, the first thing out of the mouths of local political consultants, lobbyists, and observers is the latest piece of gossip about some scandal either personal or financial involving Polanco. None of the rumors have been substantiated, though.

Calls to Polanco's state Senate office went unreturned last week.

Polanco, who has built up a formidable political machine on the Eastside, is no stranger to controversy. During his 25-year political career he has accumulated a long list of political enemies.

Recently, Polanco has tussled with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors over the rebuilding of County-USC Medical Center, and he has been a staunch opponent of finishing the Belmont Learning Center. Last year, he supported an unsuccessful effort to expand the L.A. County Board of Supervisors from five to nine members, in what many political observers saw as a prelude to his running for one of those new seats.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached by phone at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227, or by e-mail at hfine@labusinessjournal.com.

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