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. : Tom Houston : A Call to Arms Over Immigrants

April 11, 1993|GREG KRIKORIAN

He has a catchy name that sounds like a private eye's and almost 20 years' experience in high government jobs.

But Tom Houston began his Los Angeles mayoral campaign with minimal name recognition. Outside of City Hall and the state Capitol, a mention of his name was likely to draw a blank stare.

So what's a candidate to do?

In Houston's case, the strategy has been clear.

In typical rough-and-tumble fashion, this champion of liberal causes--from fair treatment of farm workers to boycotting South Africa--has surprisingly hitched his campaign to a headline-grabbing call to arms over illegal immigrants.

Although he supports legal immigration, Houston said, the city is being overrun.

Immediate steps, including an infusion of federal funds, are needed to deal with the resulting demands on social services, he said. Similarly, as an anti-crime measure, he calls for deporting members of two streets gangs that he says consist primarily of illegal immigrants.

Critics accuse him of being divisive at best, racist at worst.

So why is Houston waging such a campaign? Because, he said, he has something vital to say.

"When I set out, I said that win or lose for mayor, I was going to get some important issues moved to the center of the debate," he said.

"And that includes the whole debate over who should pay for illegal immigrants. And that issue has moved into mainstream political debate."

Houston has pledged to serve only one term if elected.

He has called for City Charter reforms that would give the mayor more power and hold top city bureaucrats more accountable.

His platform also includes support for four-day workweeks for businesses to cut down on traffic and a pledge to take more control over Rebuild L.A.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Houston was the son of educators and grew up in a conservative Republican household.

As a teen-ager, he was a volunteer in Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign for President. At Princeton University in the mid-1960s he was an unabashed supporter of the Vietnam War.

He changed that position when, as an Army lieutenant in Germany, he heard horror stories about Vietnam from combat veterans.

Houston moved to the political left and generally has been there since. (A registered Democrat, he named as first choice for President last year liberal U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa.)

After graduating from Stanford Law School, Houston worked briefly for the Federal Energy Agency in Washington. In 1975, he went to Sacramento at the behest of his former law professor, Rose Elizabeth Bird, who later became California's chief justice, and spent eight years in the Administration of former Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. His posts included head of the Fair Political Practices Commission.

He left government briefly to practice law and returned to public service as Mayor Tom Bradley's deputy mayor from 1984 to 1987. He has been in private law practice since leaving the Bradley Administration.

"Running government agencies, setting policies, implementing, yeah, that's my love," Houston, 47, said. "My first love is government service."

Tom Houston Born: Nov.1, 1945. Residence: Lake Hollywood area. Education: Degrees from Princeton University and Stanford Law School. Career Highlights: Senior partner with the law firm of Carlsmith Ball Wichman Murray Case Mukal & Ichikl; former deputy mayor and president of the Los Angeles Environmental Quality Board. Interests: Scuba diving, logging, touch football and international travel. Family: Married, two children from earlier marriage.

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