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Epple, Ohanesian Prepare Final Volleys in Democratic Race for 63rd Assembly Race

June 05, 1988|BETTINA BOXALL | Times Staff Writer

The final days of the Democratic primary campaign in the 63rd Assembly District promise no peace for party voters, who face a final wave of political promotions from competitors Peter Ohanesian and Robert D. Epple.

Wreathed in smiles and bearing good words about their candidate, hundreds of volunteers will troop through Southeast neighborhoods, while postal workers deliver a daily dose of campaign mailers to those who will decide one of the most fiercely contested legislative primaries in the state.

"We have a ton of volunteers," said Paul Carpenter, Epple's campaign manager. He predicted a weekend turnout of at least 200 supporters, including members of labor unions that have endorsed Epple, staff workers for Democratic assemblymen who have rallied behind Epple, and Epple's family.

Ohanesian's campaign manager also expected to have 200 volunteers out this weekend ringing doorbells, many of them from the two law enforcement groups that have endorsed the candidate.

Both camps have spent thousands of dollars on telephone promotions, but Ohanesian's campaign has stopped them. "We found there's been so much phoning there's starting to be a bit of a backlash," said Dina Huniu, Ohanesian's campaign manager.

Carpenter, a former state senator, said Epple's campaign had also stopped phoning but might renew it.

For all the attention heaped on the primary by Democratic politicians, it is unclear how much interest has carried over to the voting public. The contest has turned into a replay of the Sacramento leadership battle over the Assembly speakership, drowning out serious debate of district issues.

Epple has benefited from extensive financial help from elected officials and from the state Democratic Party, which has officially endorsed him. The party has sent $100,000 in mailers for Epple, and a dozen Assembly members have given Epple more than $100,000.

Epple's Assembly backers, supporters of Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), are counting on him as a potential ally in Brown's power struggle with the Gang of Five, a maverick group of Democratic assemblymen who are trying to oust Brown. Ohanesian, on the other hand, is endorsed by the five rebels, one of whom is Ohanesian's heaviest campaign contributor.

Epple, 39, a Norwalk lawyer, has bristled at the opposition's assertions that he is Brown's handpicked candidate. But that has not stopped Ohanesian from making it the focal point of his attacks on Epple. One of Ohanesian's recent flyers, patterned after one of his campaign billboards, links Epple with both Brown and Bruce Young, a former 63rd District assemblyman who was convicted of diverting laundered campaign funds to other politicians.

Ohanesian's campaign workers have taken care to remind Democratic voters that Young years ago contributed to Epple's campaign for the Cerritos College Board of Trustees. Epple opponents also say his wife was the treasurer of a Young political committee found to be in violation of campaign disclosure laws, although no action was ever taken against her.

Yet even as he tries to tar Epple with the Young brush, Ohanesian has acknowledged that he has himself accepted contributions from a Sante Fe Springs company run by John Gabriel, a former bank chairman who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a money laundering scheme. Gabriel Enterprises, a cardboard container firm, last year gave Ohanesian $5,000, and a Gabriel company contributed to his unsuccessful primary bid for the same seat four years ago.

Ohanesian, 32, owner of a marketing firm, said he took the money because he is a friend of Gabriel's son, Ron.

John Gabriel in 1981 admitted that he had failed to report--as required--nearly $500,000 in currency transactions at the Montebello-based Garfield Bank, of which he was chairman. Prosecutors said the money was involved in an illicit drug laundering scheme, although bank officials said they had no idea of the source.

Humberto Lujan of Norwalk will also be on the Democratic ballot, but his low-budget, low-key campaign has been all but ignored.

The 63rd's Republican primary has proven much quieter than the Democratic match-up. Incumbent Assemblyman Wayne Grisham of Norwalk is expected to walk away with his party's nomination, since his only opponent, Dale Hardeman of Downey, stopped campaigning weeks ago.

In other Southeast primary races, Donald Knabe of Cerritos and Maggie Vineyard of Hawaiian Gardens are vying for the Republican nomination in the 33rd Senate District represented by Democrat Cecil Green of Norwalk.

Republicans Victor Brown and Johnnie Neely are competing for the chance to run against Democratic incumbent Bill Greene in the 27th Senate District, which runs from Los Angeles into Compton and Cudahy.

Janice Lynn Graham and Stan Caress are both pursuing the Democratic nomination in Republican William Campbell's 31st Senate District, which includes parts of Orange County.

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