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Candidate Admits He Never Got Math Degree From UCLA

October 13, 1988|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

Willard H. Murray, who is locked in a crucial Assembly race, never graduated from UCLA despite claims in his campaign literature that he received a degree in mathematics.

Murray, a Democrat, hopes to unseat freshman Assemblyman Paul E. Zeltner (R-Lakewood). The contest is considered critical for Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), who has targeted the 54th District seat in his effort to retain the speakership.

UCLA records show that Murray attended the university for one semester--from February to June, 1954--and never declared a major or received a degree, the university's Office of the Registrar said Wednesday.

Murray did not return numerous calls Wednesday from a Times reporter. But late Wednesday, his campaign released a written statement from Murray in which he said: "I regret any confusion concerning my academic career. I had no intention to misstate or mislead."

In the statement, Murray acknowledged that he did not receive a UCLA degree and that he had studied at the university for only one semester. He said, however, that he had collected a total of "over 150 college units--30 units more than is required for a bachelor's degree" at several universities and colleges.

In one piece of Murray's campaign literature, the mathematics degree is placed at the top of a list of seven accomplishments under the heading, "Willard Murray: The Experienced Democrat." The degree is also included in the second paragraph of a biography distributed by his campaign, and Murray himself mentioned it when he was asked about his educational background during a debate with Zeltner last month in Bellflower.

Zeltner, who won the heavily Democratic district in an upset two years ago, said he found the disclosure shocking.

"I just cannot fathom with what's happening in the political world today--with opposition research being the way it is--that a guy would come out and lie about something like that to begin with," Zeltner said. "I do believe it is damaging. It focuses on the credibility of the individual, if it is true. . . . If somebody is going to lie to you to get a job to begin with, do you want to hire him?"

Bill Zahn, an assistant to the registrar who researched Murray's academic file, said in an interview that Murray "has never received a degree at UCLA as far as our records show."

Murray's academic credentials apparently were also being scrutinized by researchers for the Assembly Republican Caucus, according to documents obtained last month by The Times. The documents represent the contents of computer files purged by caucus employees the morning after the FBI searched four legislator's offices in August in connection with a three-year political corruption investigation.

One memorandum titled "research" specifies background information to be gathered on at least 14 Democratic and Republican incumbents and challengers, including Murray. The memo instructs staffers to look into various aspects of Murray's background, and includes an entry, "Check degree in math--UCLA."

Zeltner, however, said the background check that led to Wednesday's disclosure by UCLA was conducted by Allan Hoffenblum--a consultant employed by Zeltner--not by his Assembly staff or the Republican Caucus.

"The first thing I always do, if they have a degree, is check it out," said Hoffenblum, who managed the congressional campaign of Dana Rohrabacher, who defeated Orange County Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder last spring in a Republican congressional primary race after it was disclosed that her campaign biography erroneously said that she had a journalism degree.

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