Three Democrats were running a surprisingly close contest Tuesday in a special state Assembly election to fill the vacancy created by the resignation in March of 14-year Assembly veteran Mike Roos.
With more than half of the precincts counted, the major contenders in a field of 12 Democrats were John Emerson, on leave as a deputy city attorney; Barbara Friedman, on leave as the deputy city controller, and T. S. Chung, a lawyer.
Close on their heels was a second tier of Democrats that included Joselyn Geaga Yap, director of a community counseling center; Bob Burke, as lawyer seeking to become the first openly gay member of the California Legislature, Kathleen A. Torres and Keith Umemoto, who had the backing of Senate President pro tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles).
The Democratic nominee will become the heavy favorite to win the 46th Assembly District seat in a July 30 runoff election. Emerson, 37, who had strong backing from Democratic activists throughout Los Angeles, and from the development and entertainment businesses, had been considered the front-runner throughout the two-month-long campaign. He held that position by virtue of his campaign fund raising and the fact that other candidates singled him out for criticism.
But experts always considered Friedman, 41, a major contender because she had the support of the Westside-based Waxman-Berman political organization. Friedman is a former chief of staff to Assemblyman Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles), another Waxman-Berman ally who represents the district just to the west.
Chung, 35, who emigrated from Korea in 1970 and is a founding partner of a law firm, jumped ahead on the basis of absentee ballots counted in the district, a 25-square-mile area just west of downtown Los Angeles that includes Koreatown.
In literature mailed to voters late in the campaign, Chung sought to distinguish himself from others in the highly competitive field by appealing openly to Republican and conservative voters.
One brochure displayed a photo of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and said: "This liberal politician wants you to vote against T. S. Chung."
In two campaign forums, most of the Democratic candidates, including Chung, seemed to agree on most major issues--positions that generally coincided with those of Brown and a majority of Democrats in the Legislature.
In his final campaign mailers, however, Chung noted his opposition to the deficit-balancing tax package backed by Speaker Brown and said he supports the death penalty.
Fifteen candidates competed in the election, including 12 Democrats, one Republican, one Peace and Freedom Party member and a member of the Libertarian Party.
Although no candidate appeared able to win the seat outright on Tuesday by collecting more than 50% of the vote, the Democratic nominee was expected to go into the late July runoff election as an overwhelming favorite. Of the 62,340 voters eligible to cast ballots Tuesday, 58% are Democrats and 28% are Republicans. The three minor parties had fewer than 1,000 registered voters each.
Winning spots in the runoff without a contest on Tuesday were Republican Geoffrey Church, 28, an investment banker and stockbroker who ran against Roos and lost in the last general election in 1990; Michael Benedict Everling, 36, the Libertarian candidate, an officer of a title company, and Elizabeth Nakano, 65, a retired county social worker who was the only candidate for the nomination of the Peace and Freedom Party.
The vacancy was created when Roos resigned from the Assembly to become chief executive officer of a new organization designed to improve the quality of education in Los Angeles public schools. Roos won the seat in a 1977 special election and was Assembly speaker pro tem.