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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. : Richard D. Katz : Boosting Image Beyond Valley

April 11, 1993|AMY PYLE

Six-term state Assemblyman Richard Katz, hair perfect, cowboy boots shined, stood before a group of young, upwardly mobile Clinton supporters in Brentwood, talking about the frustrations he felt with the political system when he was their age.

"I knew I had a lot of answers, but nobody would listen," said Katz, who despite boyish looks is 42, at least a decade older than most of his audience.

Although one of the top fund-raisers in the mayor's race, Katz is still fighting to get people to listen.

His greatest obstacle in the race has been a lack of name recognition outside his San Fernando Valley Assembly district.

Katz, a Democrat, has not been invisible in Sacramento. Elected in 1980, he quickly rose to join Assembly Speaker Willie Brown's inner circle.

He has sponsored major legislation, notably one of the nation's toughest ground water protection acts, and heads the powerful Assembly Transportation Committee.

But being part of the Legislature's power structure does not necessarily make headlines, and, Katz complains, neither does representing the Valley.

Katz has campaigned hard over the hill in his double-breasted suit and cowboy boots: at a Latino business breakfast on Olvera Street, at an 8 a.m. service at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in the West Adams district, in the lobby of the Criminal Courts Building downtown.

The message he delivers is simple and compelling and usually draws laughter: If you like the way this city is run, vote for one of the four City Council members on the ballot or two-time city commission member Richard Riordan. If you don't, vote for someone who is not part of the downtown crowd.

"Someone who's more interested in doing the job than keeping the job," he repeats at each stop.

The pitch seems tailored to persuade inner-city voters that Katz would take on their urban battles even though his life hardly resembles theirs: He lives in Sylmar with his wife, public affairs executive Gini Barrett, a couple of horses and a goat named Matilda.

Still, Katz maintains that representing the poorest and most ethnically diverse areas of the Valley in the Assembly has left him uniquely qualified to comprehend Central Los Angeles' woes.

Some of his listeners remain skeptical. After the Olvera Street breakfast, insurance executive R. E. Flores of Highland Park said he did not believe the Assemblyman would be able to close the city service gaps between the haves and the have-nots.

Katz's toughest task may be portraying himself as a City Hall outsider when he is the embodiment of a career politician--and a political groupie before that.

Since Katz's unexpected election to the Assembly during the Reagan landslide, he has eyed offices ranging from state senator to lieutenant governor.

Before he was officially a politician, Katz dabbled in campus politics at Santa Monica College and San Diego State. He worked for the late San Francisco Mayor George Moscone during his 1974 campaign for governor, then started a graphics business that specialized in campaign literature design.

A Westside family therapist who worked with Katz on George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign said she was not surprised to learn 21 years later that Katz was running for mayor.

"He was aggressive," Leslie Burkes said. "He always had what it takes to succeed in politics."

Richard D. Katz Born: Aug. 16, 1950. Residence: Sylmar. Education: San Diego State University, B.A. in political science. Also attended Santa Monica City College and , briefly, San Fernando Valley School of Law. Career Highlights: State assemblyman since 1980 in a district that had experienced high turnover. He previously ran a graphics business that specialized in campaign literature and worked on several campaigns. Interests: Playing basketball, riding horses, hiking, tending roses, listening to country and Western and rock'n roll music. Family: Married.

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