With the race for the White House entering the home stretch one scenario is quickly crystallizing: if Bill Clinton wins in November, Los Angeles could have some heavy hitters in a new administration.

Precisely how that would bolster local industry is unclear, though many government watchers believe it could produce, at the least, access for big corporations and greater sympathy for Southland economic troubles.

“What it will mean is that California will have a major seat at the table,” said Joseph Scott, editor of California Eye, a political newsletter. “That can only help business.”

Topping most lists of potential Clinton appointees is Mickey Kantor, the savvy Westside politico-lawyer who is serving as the Arkansas governor’s overall campaign manager. Another in line for a high-level slot is Warren Christopher, the Los Angeles attorney and veteran Democratic adviser who headed Clinton’s vice presidential selection committee. Others mentioned, probably for lower positions, include an Occidental Petroleum Co. executive, a local college economics professor and an attorney at Kantor’s politically-connected, Century City-based law firm.

In an interview from Little Rock last week, Kantor dismissed talk about his future as pure “speculation,” noting other campaigns have been derailed by such conjecture.

“Frankly, the only thing we’re focused on is Nov. 3,” said Kantor, now a nameplate partner at the firm Manatt, Phelps, Phillips & Kantor. “Everything else just isn’t interesting to me.”

Nonetheless, many believe if President Bush is not re-elected, Kantor will become Clinton’s chief of staff, U.S. Attorney General or even special White House counsel. Besides being the Democratic nominee’s lead planner and tactician, the 52-year-old is also heading an incipient campaign team looking at transition and personnel issues.

Meanwhile, Christopher, the 67-year-old chairman of downtown Los Angeles old-line law firm O’Melveny & Meyers may be secretary of state or presidential special adviser.

“The speculation certainly hasn’t died down” about the two, said Joe Cerrell, a well-connected local political consultant. “Mickey is ambitious and he has taken a relatively obscure politician and made him into a potential president. The question is not whether he’ll be offered a job but whether he’ll prefer to stay in the private sector.”

A native of Nashville, Tenn., Georgetown University law school graduate Kantor joined Manatt in 1975, where he quickly began juggling corporate representation with political strategizing. On the campaign side, Kantor chaired the drive that first put Alan Cranston in the U.S. Senate, ran the unsuccessful presidential bid of ex-California Gov. Edmund “Jerry” Brown Jr. in 1976 and spearheaded the failed Golden State White House drives of both Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. Also a confidante to state and city Democrats, Kantor even defended Mayor Tom Bradley against conflict of interest allegations when they first surfaced in the late 1980s.

Back at Manatt, Kantor has been the hired gun for behemoths like Northrop, Lockheed and Mobil corporations and led tobacco company fights against proposed restaurant smoking bans laws in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. A central figure in Santa Fe International’s $500 million sale of commuter rail rights-of-way last spring, he is also well known for his role in Occidental Petroleum Co’s ill-fated attempt to drill off the Pacific Palisades in 1988.

If Kantor is known for his strategic prowess and southern charm, Christopher is considered stoic, detail-driven and emblematic of downtown’s button-down corporate establishment.

Kantor, who met Clinton when he and the candidate’s wife served on a non-profit legal aid group in 1978, said he only recently introduced the governor to Christopher, who gained notoriety for leading the commission studying the Los Angeles Police Department after the Rodney King beating. Shortly before the Democratic convention last July, the North Dakota native was reportedly instrumental in advising Clinton to tap Sen. Albert Gore, D-Tenn., as his running mate.

However, unlike Kantor, Christopher has served in Washington, D.C., before, first as deputy attorney general in the 1960s during Lyndon Johnson’s term and later as deputy secretary of state in the Carter administration, where he participated in the drawn-out negotiations to get the U.S. hostages out of Iran. Because of his age and past high-level experience, some reckon Christopher is less likely to move back to Washington to take a full-time position.

“I’m not so sure that he is interested in a top post,” said Scott. “The feeling is that he will play more of an informal role.”

An O’Melveny spokesperson said Christopher, who declined comment for this story, has given no indication of his plans, except that he intends to step down as chairman of the law firm’s management committee next February for a less active role. Now that Gore has been picked, Christopher has severed his “formal role” with the campaign.

Larry Berg, director of USC’s political science department, believes the region would “benefit enormously” because there would be specific knowledge of Los Angeles’ plight and a counterweight to the Washington perception California is a sinkhole for federal funds.

Besides, “look how our defense industry fared in the 1980s under Reagan and the loads of Californians he brought in,” said Berg, adding that Texas won several big federal projects and oil-industry regulatory relief in Bush’s term.

Added Los Angeles planning consultant Norm Emerson, who served in the Carter administration, “The reality of doing business in Washington is that access is always the key. We’re going through a major economic transition out here” and need federal help dealing with issues like displaced aerospace workers and jumpstarting a homegrown transportation industry.

For his part, Kantor said he “had no idea” if the Southland would be aided by having local executives who had the president’s ear. “What will help Los Angeles is our economic and investment plan to get us out of the slowest growth since the depression — that’s what matters.”

Less prominent than Kantor and Christopher but still among the list of potential appointees is Gerald Stern, general counsel and executive vice president of oil giant Occidental Petroleum and Clinton’s finance chairman for the Western states. Others likely to be considered for lower posts, according to sources, are: Los Angeles City Attorney James Hahn; his deputy city attorney John Emerson, chairman of the Democratic nominee’s California campaign and a former Manatt lawyer; Occidental College professor Derek Shearer, who is mapping out Clinton-Gore positions on trade, the federal budget and industrial policy; and Phil Recht, another Manatt attorney.

All of them either declined to comment or were unavailable.

copyright Los Angeles Business Journal