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Father and Son Think They Know Best : Politics: Republican duo running for Assembly seats in Democratic strongholds. Businessmen say GOP's platform will bring success back to South L.A. neighborhoods.

October 18, 1992|ELSTON CARR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Running as a Republican in South-Central and Southwest Los Angeles is an uphill battle to say the least, but don't tell that to a father-and-son team seeking election in neighboring Assembly districts.

Jonathan Leonard II believes the civil rights movement and subsequent legislative changes supported by Democrats and liberals splintered the black community by eroding its economic and political power bases. And his son, Jonathan Leonard III, says many African-Americans really favor the Republican party but are afraid to say so because of pressure from families who traditionally vote for Democrats.

"There is an anti-incumbency mood sweeping the nation," said the younger Leonard, a 37-year-old who helps run the family's printing company. "Locally and nationally people want change. . . . We think we can persuade voters that we and the Republican platform of less government represent the change that is necessary to bring leadership, not just legislation, back to the community."

However, voter registration data does not bode well for the Leonards. The elder Leonard is running in the 47th Assembly District, which stretches from Culver City and Crenshaw into South Los Angeles and where 75% of registered voters are Democrats. His opponent is incumbent Assemblywoman Gwen Moore.

The 48th District, the most solidly Democratic in the state, is being sought by the younger Leonard. The 88% Democratic district stretches from Downtown to Watts, and is now represented by Assemblywoman Marguerite Archie-Hudson.

"I don't care about the odds of winning the election," said Jonathan Leonard III. "The Republican Party offers the best philosophy for African-Americans. We must get out and work hard to let people understand that we can improve ourselves with our own resources. This is the party of the future, the party of solutions."

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the Leonards discussed their campaign from the office of their Crenshaw District printing company, where the decor included photos of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Nelson Mandela along with a 1992 Republican Party convention poster.

With no funding from the state Republican Party, the Leonards said they will use the remaining days before the Nov. 3 election to walk precincts, begin a direct-mail drive and advertise in community newspapers.

This is the second run for office for the elder Leonard, 61, who gained 3% of the vote when he ran for the Los Angeles City Council in 1991 in an unsuccessful attempt to replace retiring Councilman Robert Farrell.

Leonard, a heavy-set man with a graying beard, believes the black community needs to be more independent. "You see, one of the things that happened in the process of integration, we thought we were getting advantages," said Leonard, a retired firefighter who now manages his family's real estate holdings in addition to helping run the printing business.

"When we were restricted to wards and ghettos and that type of situation, we were restricted to the point where the doctor, the lawyer, the schoolteachers and principals all lived in the same neighborhood. These neighborhoods have been stripped out. As youngsters, we had a chance to see what we wanted to be."

Both father and son say that, if elected, they would work to give tax breaks to encourage companies to open factories and offices in their districts. The younger Leonard, a business administration major who graduated from San Jose State University, said there are plenty of examples of initiative in the African-American community, ranging from his father's business success to homeless people who subsist on money earned by gathering cans and bottles.

"We need to see more of that, not these guys standing outside liquor stores begging for money," he said.

Reginald Daniels, a graphic artist and resident of the 48th Assembly District, said he will vote for Leonard II because he would bring business back into the area.

"I believe he can bring change into the community," Daniels said. "I don't think he will get lost in Sacramento like other candidates."

Archie-Hudson said she has legislation before the Assembly that would give construction companies operating in the area tax credits for hiring local residents. She would not discuss the Leonards, saying, "I don't have an interest in Republicans."

Moore of the 47th District was unavailable for comment.

Despite the many obstacles the Leonards face, they are confident they will win election to the Assembly. "I'm going to win by the time I get through walking from Koreatown to Watts," the senior Leonard said.

"What we're doing is bold," said the younger Leonard. "It will take a lot of courage to join us."

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