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Victorious Martinez Shrugs Off Chen's Parting Shot After Bitter Fight

June 09, 1988|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

Victorious Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park) and his vanquished primary rival, Lily Chen, ended their bitter election battle in the 30th Congressional District Tuesday night quoting the same man, Harry S. Truman.

Chen, who accused Martinez of putting his alleged "girlfriend" on the government payroll for $72,000 a year and taking her on junkets, said she had no regrets about assailing the congressman's integrity and delving into his personal life, even though some political opponents thought the issues had backfired on her campaign.

Chen said: "When Harry Truman used to be asked, 'Why are you giving hell to people?' he used to say, 'I'm only telling the truth.' "

Like Truman, she said, "I told the truth."

The 52-year-old former mayor of Monterey Park, who took a leave of absence from her job as director of public affairs for the county Department of Children's Services to run her campaign, conceded defeat in a statement delivered shortly after midnight to about 40 supporters at a Chinese restaurant next to her campaign headquarters in Alhambra.

Although Chen said she was extending "best wishes" to the campaign winner, the brief statement that she read included a final jab at Martinez. "I have been a lifelong Democrat, and I support the Democratic principles from top to bottom," she said. "Unfortunately, my opposition is at the bottom."

Meanwhile, at a victory celebration at the Armenian Center in Montebello, Martinez continued to brush off Chen's charges as he accepted congratulations from his supporters. He refused to be drawn into a discussion of his personal life, saying only that living with criticism is part of politics. He then recalled Truman's dictum: "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen."

Martinez scored a surprisingly easy victory, outpolling Chen nearly 3 to 1. In November, he will face Ralph R. Ramirez, 50, a San Gabriel business consultant and former head of the state Division of Industrial Accidents, who defeated two rivals in a quiet primary that was overshadowed by the Martinez-Chen contest.

Final returns showed Martinez received 32,978 votes or 73.7% to Chen's 11,768, or 26.3%.

The November election will be a rematch of a special election in 1982 in which Martinez narrowly defeated Ramirez for a vacated congressional seat.

Ramirez earned the Republican nomination Tuesday with 8,749 votes (44.3%) to defeat Mike Radlovic, an El Monte real estate broker, who received 7,283 votes (36.9%) and Robert S. Kowell, an Alhambra engineer, who received 3,711 votes (18.8%).

Joining Martinez and Ramirez on the ballot in November will be two minor party candidates who ran unopposed in the primary. They are Kim J. Goldsworthy, 31, a computer programmer from Rosemead, and Houston Myers, 73, a retired auto repair shop owner who lives in San Gabriel.

Ramirez said he believes the bruising Democratic primary sets up Martinez for defeat in November.

"It's time for a change in the district," Ramirez said. "We think the community deserves some decent representation."

But Martinez said that although he keeps reading statements that he is "politically vulnerable," he continues to win.

The key to his political success, he said, is meeting the needs of his constituents.

"I don't go around bragging about the things I do," he said. "I don't choose to stand up on a soapbox and break my arm patting myself on the back. The constituents don't care about that. What they care about is that when they need help, they get help."

Martinez was outspent in the campaign. Chen, who staged fund-raising dinners in New York, Houston, San Francisco and elsewhere, had raised $240,000 as of May 27, according to a statement she filed with the Federal Election Commission. Martinez raised less than $200,000.

"It's not the money that counts," Martinez said, "it's the grass-roots support."

Chen spent much of her money on signs and on mailers, targeting special messages to groups, such as senior citizens, women, Chinese, Japanese and Latinos.

One of her mailers reprinted a news story from 1986 when Martinez was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, but did not mention that no charges were filed after a blood alcohol test showed he was not legally drunk. Another mailer pictured Martinez and his administrative aide, Maxine Grant, whom it identified as the congressman's "girlfriend," in Maui on what the mailer called a series of "holiday trips" at taxpayer expense.

Although aides said Martinez and his wife, Vera, live apart, she helped him in his campaign and was present with several of their five children and seven grandchildren for the victory celebration Tuesday night.

Vera Martinez said she was upset by Chen's allegations, which she took as an attack on herself as well as on her husband.

"I'm going to see an attorney this week because I don't think she should get away with that," Vera Martinez said. "She went too far.

"If her allegations were true," she said, "I would not be here with my husband, I can tell you that. Neither would his children.

"She made it look like I was a poor pawn in this whole thing, that he was out there messing around with his administrative assistant and I was the poor dummy. I can't describe the feeling when I read that. I blew a fuse."

Other workers in the Martinez campaign said they believed voters reacted negatively to Chen's personal attacks.

But Ron Kuramoto, one of Chen's campaign aides, said the charges Chen made were well-documented. "It was a hard-hitting campaign," he said. "I don't think it was a dirty campaign."

Martinez, 59, has been in Congress since 1982 and before that served in the state Assembly and was a city councilman and mayor in Monterey Park.

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