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STATE ASSEMBLY: CHERNY, LEVINE IN DEAD HEAT; MONTANEZ AHEAD OF FUENTES.

Byline: Beth Barrett Staff Writer

Former legislative aides Andrei Cherny and Lloyd Levine were locked in a virtual dead heat in early returns while San Fernando Mayor Cindy Montanez surged to the lead in Democratic primaries for the San Fernando Valley's two Assembly seats.

Cherny, a policy adviser to former state Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, and Lloyd Levine, the legislative director for San Bernardino Democratic Assemblyman John Longville, fought a tough race marked by hit-piece mailers and charges of improprieties. They are vying for the nomination to succeed Hertzberg in the 40th District.

In the 39th District seat now held by Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, Montanez held a big fund-raising advantage over Yolanda Fuentes, an aide to Cardenas.

Both Cherny and Levine camps expressed optimism.

``This means it's going to be a tight and tough race,'' said Rick Taylor, Cherny's campaign consultant. ``We're very confident.''

Levine said he was taking a wait-and-see attitude.

``I feel like I ran a good campaign, that I got the message out to the voters that I wanted to. I'm kind of comfortable.''

Jimmy Blackman, Montanez's campaign manager, said the campaign - which got a big last-day boost from union volunteers - was encouraged by the early results.

``We feel great,'' Blackman said. ``We attribute these results to running a campaign based on the issues. The union effort was substantial, but it was an incredible community grass-roots campaign.''

Nina Banuelos, Fuentes' campaign manager, said the campaign remained optimistic.

``We feel our numbers will be very strong,'' Banuelos said.

In the 40th District, Hertzberg used all his clout on behalf of Cherny, 26, saying Levine was not up to the task of representing the Valley.

Levine, 32, whose backing included the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley and several unions, got into financial difficulty after being forced to give back a possibly illegal $88,000 personal loan from his parents. His father is political consultant Larry Levine, who is a leader in an anti-secession movement.

In the northeast Valley's 39th District, the race to replace Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, D-Mission Hills, was run largely along the fault lines of rival Latino factions.

Montanez, 28, was backed by state Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-Van Nuys, while Cardenas aide Yolanda Fuentes, 27, was aligned more with Cardenas, Los Angeles City Council President Alex Padilla and political consultant, businessman and Northeast Valley power broker James Acevedo.

Montanez raised more than $410,000, or more than double what Fuentes did.

Richard Katz, former Assemblyman from the 39th District, said Montanez's early lead was an indication of a strong grass-roots campaign and an effective absentee-ballot drive.

Katz said the tight Cherny-Levine race reflects two young candidates, neither with a natural political base yet fully developed in the Valley, but still running sophisticated campaigns.

Sources said Hertzberg's influence in the race should be a factor.

The 39th and 40th districts, both with open seats because of term limits, are the only Assembly districts located entirely within the Valley. Both are heavily Democratic.

In the Republican primaries, 39th District GOP candidate Ely De La Cruz Ayao was unopposed.

In the 40th District Republican primary, West Hills businesswoman Connie Friedman was unopposed.

They will challenge the Democratic nominees in the Nov. 5 general election.

Cherny, once a speech writer for former Vice President Al Gore, benefited from independent expenditure campaigns on his behalf that produced a barrage of mailers as well as television spots and billboards. He also got grass-roots support from community groups and local elected officials, many of whom, including Valley VOTE, the secession group, he had worked with over the past couple of years.

In the last few days of the race, Cherny unleashed a series of mailers that so outraged some prominent Democrats for their negativity that several broke their neutrality in favor of Levine, or withdrew their previous endorsement of Cherny, including former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski.

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1) 40th District candidate Andrei Cherny casts his ballot at his Van Nuys precinct accompanied by his parents Pavel and Helena.

Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer

(2) Lloyd Levine, candidate for the 40th District Assembly seat, votes Tuesday morning at Valerio Street School in Van Nuys.

David Sprague/Staff Photographer

(3) Assembly candidate Yolanda Fuentes makes calls to voters from her campaign office in Arleta on Tuesday.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer

(4) Cindy Montanez, candidate for the 39th Assembly District, votes at the American Legion Hall in San Fernando on Tuesday.

Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 6, 2002
Words:748
Previous Article:VENTURA COUNTY: HOFFMAN AND PARKS IN CLOSE CONTEST.
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