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Chicken Dinners and Dreams : Life's a Whirl for Young Minorities With Political Aspirations


One look at Geoffrey Taylor Gibbs' engagement calendar seems to prove that he needs a nutritionist. Clearly, there is way too much rubber chicken in his diet.

One recent week, for instance, the 29-year-old lawyer went to Los Angeles fund-raisers for mayoral candidates in Oakland and Washington, D.C., as well as an event for a Los Angeles City Council candidate. He attended a fund-raiser staged by supporters of Proposition B on the Los Angeles city ballot. Then he helped conduct a voter education session on California's ballot initiatives at Trinity Baptist Church.

On the weekend, he was a judge at a debate tournament that included Jordan High School's team, which Gibbs and other members of a network of young black and Latino professionals have supported with a fund-raising drive.

This frantic pace--atop a full-time job as an associate at the prominent law firm of O'Melveny & Myers--is fairly routine for Gibbs, a former Rhodes scholar and a 1988 graduate of UC-Berkeley's Boalt Hall law school.

For Gibbs, this full, after-work schedule is the price of the pursuit of politics, of one day possibly getting a real shot at running for office.

It is, he concedes, a gamble that may never pay off.

And, Gibbs acknowledges that some think it's a crazy way to live.

"People ask me that all the time--why are you involved in politics?" he says, reflecting the skepticism he encounters.

But Gibbs says he sees politics as honorable and that he is willing to undergo the scrutiny that goes with political ambition.

"When I was a little boy, my mother told me, 'Never do anything you don't want to see in the paper,' " he recalls. "I don't think she was talking about (politics) but I guess that still applies."

Gibbs is not the only one who willingly spends his private hours in pursuit of a possible public life. This political season, while attention focuses on the high-profile candidates and issues, there are plenty of others busy in this largely invisible quest.

Especially for minority candidates, it is a task that requires discretion, patience and bridge-building to a powerful older generation, which knows all too well the limits of political opportunities for people of color in Los Angeles.

Too, while struggling with this realpolitik, the aspiring must look to the future, assembling a group of like-minded peers.

In Los Angeles, at least, this can mean making connections across cultural and ethnic barriers because the city's future is in diversity.

And at this level, it seems that the coalitions of blacks, Latinos and Asians that may one day control power in the city and state are already being formed.

In August, for example, the informal group that includes Gibbs threw a fund-raiser to support the candidacy of Lon Hatamiya, an Asian-American Democrat from Marysville running for the General Assembly's 3rd District seat. The event raised more than $3,000 for Hatamiya, Gibbs says, largely through $50 donations.

Tracy Robinson, 30, a black who works as an administrator in the gang enforcement section of the Los Angeles City Attorney's office and who hopes one day to run for office, said he participated in the fund-raiser because "there's not an Asian American in the state Assembly" now.

Says Gibbs: "Whatever it is that I'll be doing in the future, the past generation has recognized that what's going to be unique about L.A. and California is this multicultural, world society living in one place. They recognized that, they've predicted it. It's up to our generation to live it and make that promise come true. . . . And that's why it was so important, for instance, that a group of largely black and Hispanic folks got together to throw a fund-raiser for Lon Hatamiya. . . ."

Louis E. Caldera, a 34-year-old lawyer, believes that such connections are practical politics: "I think that California is facing tremendous challenges in our multicultural, multiethnic society, and that we have to have everyone participating in the process if we're going to be able to meet those challenges effectively."

In a similar vein, Gibbs says that elective office is seen as a catalyst for change and that he is doubly pleased some have already suggested that he has political potential.

"If you know the extent of the problems in the African-American community and the degree to which our community relies on its elected officials to address those, you have to take it as a great honor when anyone suggests that you can play that kind of a role," he says.

Coping with the uncertainty that Gibbs, Caldera and the others do, few are willing to talk for the record. In fact, like reluctant presidential candidates, few will actually admit, even privately, to elective desires.

"You don't want to put a big bulls-eye on yourself that says blind ambition," jokes Caldera, who works at the law firm of Buchalter, Nemer, Fields & Younger.

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