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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. : Julian Nava : Ex-Heavyweight in Comeback Bid

April 11, 1993|JACK CHEEVERS

In a crowded pack of uphill battlers, Julian Nava faces a steeper climb than most.

His status as the only politically prominent Latino in the race evaporated when Linda Griego jumped in. Compared to the funds of leading candidates, his campaign war chest is puny. An early fund-raising effort faltered when his 800 number experienced technical difficulties.

And his only burst of publicity earned him widespread criticism. Mostly on impulse, Nava declared in a December debate that resident aliens--foreigners living in the United States legally--should be allowed to vote in some local elections.

Beyond the uproar that sparked, Nava's campaign has attracted little public notice.

In an early Times poll, only 2% of those surveyed said they would vote for him.

Nava's run for mayor is a bid for a political comeback. The 65-year-old college professor was a local political heavyweight in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1967 he became the first Latino on the Los Angeles school board. He was twice reelected, serving a total of 12 years.

In 1979 he became President Jimmy Carter's ambassador to Mexico, the first Mexican-American to hold that job.

Replaced by the Reagan Administration in 1981, Nava largely disappeared from public attention. He returned to teaching at Cal State Northridge and engaged in a series of entrepreneurial ventures, among them a Mexican oyster farm.

By the time he launched his mayoral campaign, his political cachet had faded considerably--to the point where some label him a political has-been.

Nava acknowledges that his odds of winning are long. But he insists he has a chance.

Casting himself as a citizen-candidate with no debts to interest groups, Nava has campaigned on the issues of crime-fighting and job creation. His diplomatic tenure, he tells listeners, gave him the skills and contacts to encourage trade between Los Angeles and foreign countries, particularly Mexico.

He also notes that he is the only candidate for mayor who has won a citywide election.

To deal with the city's budget opponents, he has proposed a city payroll tax, saying it will force commuters to pay for municipal services they now use at no cost.

He is pitching much of his campaign at Latinos and other ethnic minorities.

But some observers say his appeal among Latinos has been badly tarnished by a common impression that he supported Daryl F. Gates when the former police chief was struggling with Mayor Tom Bradley.

That belief grows out of Nava's leadership role in the campaign against Proposition F, the police reform measure overwhelmingly approved by voters in June. The measure, recommended by the Christopher Commission that investigated the Los Angeles Police Department after the beating of Rodney G. King, gave City Hall officials greater authority to hire and fire police chiefs.

Nava also was involved in a short-lived effort to recall Bradley for his efforts to fire Gates.

Nava insists he did not support Gates personally but only wanted him to receive due process after his controversial suspension by the city Police Commission, an action later reversed by the City Council. Nava described himself as a strong critic of Gates and said that as a member of a police Latino advisory panel he often challenged Gates.

He opposed the police reform measure, he said, because he felt it would politicize the LAPD. He was involved in the Bradley recall not over Gates, but because of other conflicts with the mayor, he said.

Julian Nava Born: June 19, 1927. Residence: Northridge. Education: Master's degree and Ph.D., Harvard University. Career Highlights: Former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, former member of the Los Angeles Board of Education, professor of history at Cal State Northridge. Interests: Carpentry, travel, horseback riding. Family: Married, three children.

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