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Decision '93 / A Look at the Elections in Los Angeles County : Los Angeles Mayor : Separated from the pack by their public service, 11 candidates are given a fighting chance to win a runoff spot. : Nate Holden : Chasing Goals and Battling Odds

April 11, 1993|JAMES RAINEY

After a quarter-century of political life, Nate Holden is used to being told no.

The political Establishment said he couldn't become a state senator. They said he would never beat the favorite to join the Los Angeles City Council. Now they're telling him he can't be mayor.

He has lost more elections then he's won--he's 3 for 7 since 1968. But he surprised observers by reaching the Senate in 1974 and the council in 1987.

"I don't listen to 'no,' " he said. "I don't understand it."

Friends say Holden has never wavered from his goal of being mayor since he surprised the experts by receiving 28% of the vote in 1989, nearly forcing Mayor Tom Bradley into a runoff. He has remained unbowed over the last five months as three women have accused him of sexual harassment, which he vehemently denies.

Holden, 63, has spent much of his six years on the council promoting causes that win headlines. He bought assault rifles to get them off the streets, spurned a raise to pay for more police foot patrols and called for blood tests of restaurant workers to attack AIDS.

Holden calls himself the most experienced and qualified mayoral candidate. He says his work at several levels of government--as a county supervisor's deputy, a state senator and finally a council member--gave him the contacts and knowledge to get things done.

He has promoted the rehiring of retired police officers, which would be permitted under a ballot measure that he introduced.

He promises to help new businesses by hiring an economic development czar to hack at red tape.

Critics say Holden's record reveals no overarching philosophy.

Others say Holden has to be appreciated for the way he can rally a crowd with plain talking. "Nate works harder with his constituents and other residents of Los Angeles than he does at pleasing his colleagues," Councilwoman Joy Picus said.

He lost two campaigns for Congress and one for state Assembly before breaking through with the state Senate victory in 1974. The Legislature's black political leadership was unified against him then, preferring then-Assemblyman Frank Holoman.

When Holden tried to move up to Congress in 1978, he lost again and took two more defeats--for City Council and State Board of Equalization--before being returned to the council in 1987.

"I win every fourth time," Holden said jokingly. He added: "My life has always been one of taking chances and trying to do better."

The councilman, whose district stretches from Koreatown to Palms and South Los Angeles, has generally been credited with taking care of basic constituent problems such as potholes and dirty alleys. Some residents complain that he is out of touch, failing to heed calls to preserve historic structures and maintain citizen advisory councils that he established.

Holden's toughest task in the race: proving to the black voters he counts on that he is not an apologist for former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates. Holden and nine other council members voted to reinstate Gates after he had been placed on administrative leave by the Police Commission.

Holden said that he was not a supporter of Gates, that he voted for reinstatement because the Police Commission had illegally denied the chief due process.

Many black leaders reject that.

"There was quite a strong sense of betrayal throughout the African-American community," said Los Angeles Urban League President John W. Mack. "Quite a bit of anger lingers."

Nate Holden Born: June 19, 1929. Residence: Southwest Los Angeles. Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees, West Coast University in Los Angeles. Career Highlights: State senator, 1974-1978; city councilman, 1987 to present. Finished second, with 28% of vote, to Mayor Tom Bradley in 1989 mayoral race. Interests: Athletics, physical fitness. Family: Divorced, two sons.

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