DANIEL TAUB Staff Reporter
City Charter reform backers have long conceded the difficulty of coming up with a snappy ad campaign to sell their ballot initiative to voters.
Unlike crime or education, charter reform doesn’t lend itself to short sound bites and catchy slogans or does it?
In radio ads last week, state Sen. Tom Hayden took his stab at making charter reform real to voters by claiming it’s a plot by Richard Riordan and junk bond dealers to pillage City Hall.
Hayden, a mayoral candidate in the city’s April 8 election, urges voters to cast ballots against the slate of charter reform candidates backed by Riordan.
“Richard Riordan and his junk-bond friends are spending $2 million on candidates to reform the L.A. city charter,” Hayden, D-Los Angeles, said in one of three 60-second commercials.
“This isn’t philanthropy. They’re doing it to make a fast buck,” he said.
Both charter reform supporters and Riordan’s reelection campaign staff say that the charges are baseless and that Hayden is using the charter reform issue and a charter reform organization he heads to bolster his own campaign to unseat Riordan.
“How does anyone make money with charter reform?” asked political consultant Steven Afriat, who is working with 10 charter reform commission candidates endorsed by Riordan. “He may as well say charter reform will find a cure for cancer.”
Charter reform has been the most contentious issue on the April 8 city ballot. Proposition 8 asks voters to appoint a 15-member commission to draft a new version of the city’s charter, which serves as L.A.’s constitution.
Voters will also be asked to select candidates from the L.A.’s 15 city council districts to sit on the charter reform commission should Prop. 8 pass. Fifty-one candidates are running for the unpaid positions.
Critics have accused Riordan who contributed $575,000 of his own money to the charter reform effort of pushing for a new charter that would give more power to his office, and of endorsing candidates who support the change in power.
Hayden’s commercials, which were scheduled to run through the end of last week, expand the charge by saying that local business people have contributed to the charter reform campaign with the hopes that they could win favor with a more powerful mayor’s office in coming years.
Among the contributors was Apollo Advisors L.P., whose management includes former members of the defunct firm of Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., where convicted junk-bond dealer Michael Milken worked.
Century City-based Apollo contributed $10,000 to “Citizens for a Better Los Angeles,” one of three Riordan-supported charter reform groups.
Hayden said that Apollo and other businesses expect to make money off future deals with the mayor’s office after L.A.’s charter is rewritten.
“The mayor has raised a couple million dollars from businesses that seek favors from the city,” Hayden said.
Political consultant Larry Remer of the Hayden campaign added that a mayor with expanded powers under the City Charter could ease environmental regulations and development restrictions for business.
“Centralized large power tends to favor other large centralized powers,” Remer said. “It’s much easier for the 3M company or Arco to deal with one mayor rather than 28 or 30 community councils.”
But consultant Afriat and others say there is no evidence that the candidates Riordan endorses will rewrite the charter to put more power in the Mayor’s Office.
“He’s making an assumption that people have a preconceived notion about charter reform,” Afriat said of Hayden. “Why doesn’t he talk to the candidates?”
Hayden said it’s unlikely that Riordan would endorse charter reform candidates who do not support putting more power in the mayor’s office.
“I think the mayor is an assured businessman and would only make agreements with people who agreed with him in general terms,” Hayden said.
Riordan campaign press secretary Todd Harris also criticized the commercials and the fact that their $100,000 cost is being paid by Hayden through an organization called “Citizens and Tom Hayden for Neighborhood Charter Reform,” rather than by Hayden’s mayoral campaign.
“I think that they’re ads for his mayoral race being paid for by a sort of phantom charter reform committee,” Harris said.
The commercials do not mention that Hayden is running for mayor, but all three feature his name and voice.