Quiet Campaign Irks Supporters Of Secession Bid
By HOWARD FINE
As the secession campaign enters its final seven weeks, there’s a growing frustration among proponents over the lack of a coherent and organized campaign for Hollywood and San Fernando Valley cityhood.
Those campaigning for secession say they plan to launch their media ad campaign over the next two weeks, finally tapping the services of high-powered campaign firm Goddard Claussen Porter Novelli.
But supporters and others believe that the pro-secession campaign has lost much of the momentum from when the measures were placed on the ballot more than three months ago and that numerous opportunities have been squandered to regain some of that momentum.
“Over the last 90 days, the pro-secession campaign has let slip many opportunities, both in endorsements and in consolidating their base,” said Arnold Steinberg, a Valley-based Republican pollster and frequent campaign strategist/consultant. “It’s now theoretically possible to launch a campaign, but there’s a sense that the greatest window of opportunity has passed.”
Among the missed opportunities cited by Steinberg and others were a series of endorsements, including former L.A. Police Chief Bernard Parks who last week came out against secession, and an early endorsement from the Valley Industry and Commerce Association. VICA is now polling its members and will take a position on Sept. 24; at this juncture, that vote is too close to call.
At the very least, Steinberg said, the pro-secession campaign should have conducted direct mail drops over the summer to keep momentum alive among a broader base than the roster of volunteers and candidates for Valley mayor and council seats.
Valley Independence Committee co-chair and former state Assemblyman Richard Katz said the pro-secession media campaign will get under way in a couple of weeks.
“We had the summer lull and then there’s a brief respite out of respect for the Sept. 11 anniversary,” Katz said. “But after that, we’re going to be out in full force, both on the airwaves and with volunteers on the ground.”
Katz said the Valley Independence Committee has more than $1 million in cash and commitments, “more than enough to launch a credible campaign.” But he said he did not know what percentage of that $1 million was in cash and how much was in commitments that may or may not materialize.
In early August, the Valley Independence Committee released a report showing it had received $600,000 in contributions and pledges from over 200 contributors. That’s well below the nearly $3 million that the L.A. United campaign against secession has.
Loss of momentum
“As I talk to my fellow businesspeople out in the community, there’s frustration and disappointment among those who support secession that a more pervasive campaign hasn’t happened yet,” said Martin Cooper, president of Cooper Communications and vice chair of the VICA. Cooper said he had not yet made up his own mind on the secession issue.
“It’s a case of whenever you believe in something, you want it to be successful, and these businesspeople are growing increasingly concerned that the campaign won’t be successful,” Cooper added.
L.A. United has not launched its media ad campaign against secession either. But the anti-secession side is not grappling with a perceived loss of momentum and it’s leading handily in the citywide vote. And with nearly $3 million on hand, there’s no doubt L.A. United has the funds to mount whatever campaign it deems necessary.
“We’re in a financial position to enter the wholesale (mass media) market now, but we’re waiting another two or three weeks before we go up,” said Kam Kuwata, campaign consultant to L.A. United. “Meanwhile, we’re continuing to build our coalitions on the ground.”
The Hollywood cityhood campaign is not waiting for the Goddard Claussen pro-secession ads. They’ve already hired another firm, Progressive Campaigns Inc., to conduct a street-level and direct-mail campaign. And Hollywood VOTE president Gene La Pietra said another firm is about to be hired to do signs and hand out flyers on street corners.
“This is not a vote of no-confidence in Goddard Claussen,” La Pietra said. “Rather we’re going with three groups to saturate the market with the message, ‘Free Hollywood and give her back her dignity.'”
Part of the difficulty for both the Hollywood and San Fernando Valley campaigns is the need to craft different messages for different audiences.
“The anti-secession forces have a relatively simple message: ‘It’s too risky,’ said Raphe Sonenshein, professor of political science at California State University Fullerton and former executive director of one of the charter reform commissions. “But the pro-secession forces have to convince people in the Valley and Hollywood that they can do better than L.A., while at the same time reassuring the people in the rest of L.A. that L.A. won’t suffer if the Valley and Hollywood leave. That’s a very tough line to tread.”
It’s precisely for that reason that many secession supporters were hoping the media campaign would get off to an earlier start. But secession supporters say they still have adequate time to get their message out.
“We’ve got a planned media program,” said William Powers, chairman of the United Chambers of Commerce, which in July endorsed the secession measure. “It would have been great if we had $50 million like (Gov.) Gray Davis does so that we could have run hundreds of ads every week. But the typical campaign doesn’t start until September and it’s now September and we’re ready to go.”