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Decision '92 : VOTING IN THE VALLEY / AN ELECTION GUIDE : ASSEMBLY / 39th DISTRICT : Katz Looks Past Election Day to City Hall


Despite talk of a voter backlash against lawmakers in the wake of the state budget deadlock, the political signposts point to a painless Nov. 3 reelection victory for state Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Panorama City).

Katz's real test is more likely to come after Nov. 3 when the 42-year-old lawmaker, known for his cowboy apparel and leadership on state transit issues, must decide if he's going to run for mayor of Los Angeles.

His opposition in the election is Republican Nicholas Fitzgerald, who has received no help from his party, and Libertarian candidate David H. George.

For Katz, now in his sixth term in Sacramento representing the central San Fernando Valley's 39th District, the need to find and conquer new political frontiers is compelling: Due to state term limits, he cannot serve in the Assembly, if reelected Nov. 3, after 1994.

Katz filed the required papers in July to raise money to run for mayor, and he has entered into a "handshake agreement" with a top political adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton to run his campaign.

But the lawmaker has not promised, as have councilmen and mayoral candidates Michael Woo and Joel Wachs, that he will definitely seek the city's top elective job. To date, his remains an exploratory candidacy.

The only published poll on the 1993 mayor's contest, taken in August by KCBS-TV, showed Katz running deep in the pack in popularity and name recognition among citywide voters.

"It's irrelevant," Katz said of the poll. "It's too early." Moreover, Katz contends that voters haven't had a chance to get to know him because the city's media seldom focuses on Sacramento politics or on Valley-based lawmakers. A well-funded campaign can change this, Katz said.

The boyish-looking Katz, however, is a powerhouse in Sacramento in part thanks of his close ties to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).

Still, during this summer's state budget crisis, Katz, sensing trouble, sure-footedly distanced himself from Brown and became a pivotal figure in developing fiscal plans kinder to riot-ravaged Los Angeles than ones backed by Speaker Brown.

One of Katz's bailout measures gives the city new authority to skim profits from its Harbor Department to balance the general fund budget.

Such actions helped the city avoid big, ugly cuts in its emergency services, said Council President John Ferraro. "The highlight of the session was my work to protect the city's police, fire and paramedic services," Katz boasted recently.

Still, Katz was scored by Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, a potential mayoral rival, and Deputy Mayor Mark Fabiani who complained that the assemblyman was a tardy convert to the perils of the state budget crisis for Los Angeles.

Katz also took some lumps in February when heavy rains flooded the Los Angeles River, giving critics, including mayoral candidate Woo and Mayor Tom Bradley, a chance to scorn his plan to build a commuter expressway in the river's channel.

But in a recent interview Katz cited a 1991 transit report that recommends building his proposed expressway on the banks of the channel, not in it, as a vindication of his idea. "As usual, Bradley and Woo were behind the curve," Katz said. "Now, it's being incorporated into the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission's 30-year plan."

Voters in the 39th District have repeatedly reelected Katz, a former print shop owner, by wide margins. And after reapportionment, the 39th District, now confined to the blue-collar, increasingly Hispanic East Valley, is more heavily Democratic than ever.

Despite his own protestations that he has an eye out for reelection trouble because of the state's unsettled political climate, Katz's Assembly campaign is almost invisible.

A recent trip to the 39th District found no conventional emblems of a hotly contested campaign--no yard signs, no billboards. Katz also has no campaign headquarters, and, as of Oct. 6, had mailed no political literature to voters.

Nor is there much evidence of a campaign by Nicholas Fitzgerald, 30, the self-described "badly under-employed" computer consultant who is the Republican standard-bearer in the 39th Assembly district.

"I've got endorsements coming out my ears, but no money," Fitzgerald lamented the same day he reported having $13.46 in his campaign coffers. "The party tells me that there's not much point of giving me money because Katz is so strong. I wish they'd told me that before. I'd probably not have run."

Fitzgerald calls himself a conservative Republican whose main message is: "gut the government." State lawmakers "are just flushing our money down the toilet," he said.

The challenger maintains that one sign of how government is out of control, and how Katz is part of the problem, is that out of 4,500 separate Assembly floor votes during the past two years, only a handful of measures were defeated and Katz himself voted "no" only 155 times.

"All those measures can't be that good," Fitzgerald said.

"He's not judging these measures on their merits," replied Katz. Moreover, the assemblyman noted that the state's recent budget was balanced without a tax hike. "It was all done with cuts, health care was cut $1.7 billion, local government $1.3 billion and education $1.2 billion," said the lawmaker.


Where: The district includes the communities of Arleta, Pacoima and San Fernando, and portions of Lake View Terrace, North Hollywood, Panorama City, Sun Valley and Sylmar. To find out if you live in the district, call the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's office at (213) 721-1100.


Richard Katz, Democrat, assemblyman

Nicholas Fitzgerald, Republican, businessman

David H. George, Libertarian, production electronic technician

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