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. : Nick Patsaouras : In Pursuit of Immigrants' Vote

April 11, 1993|JAMES RAINEY

In the city of immigrants, Nick Patsaouras is the immigrant candidate.

Thirty-one years ago he arrived from Greece as a teen-ager struggling to get an education.

Since then he has built a thriving electrical engineering firm, founded a bank, bagged more than $2 million in donations for presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and helped put a subway into a car-happy city.

Now he wonders: Why shouldn't he be mayor of Los Angeles?

"I don't see myself as anything else," Patsaouras said, spurning the idea of seeking a lesser office. "And I will not be anything else. I see that as my destiny."

Nearly two of every five Angelenos were born on foreign soil. Patsaouras says these natives of Armenia, Egypt, Mexico, Korea and elsewhere will become his extra link in advancing past April 20 to a June runoff.

He pursues the immigrants with a gusto--appearing on Korean-American cable television, sharing enchiladas and ranchera music with Latino engineers and dipping into a plate of hummus with professionals from Syria and Lebanon.

His supporters see Patsaouras' cosmopolitan charm, his optimism, his charisma. Detractors see a politician's obsession with self-advancement.

"He is the closest thing this city has to a Fiorello La Guardia," said urban theorist Mike Davis, conjuring up images of the crusading New York mayor. "He represents that kind of hidden Fourth World of immigrants . . . and with a commitment to a reform program."

One critic who has followed Patsaouras' career on two transit agency boards sees instead a man "who is constantly looking for attention. Most of his ideas will be over what kind of press exposure he will get."

On other attributes, friends and foes agree. Patsaouras is passionate, driven, impatient and busy.

He rises at 4:40 a.m. for a gym workout and sometimes reduces his schedule to 10-minute segments to get more accomplished.

He has little patience for delays or excuses from bureaucrats, often blistering the staffs of the three agencies on whose boards he has served--the Southern California Rapid Transit District, the county Transportation Commission and the city Board of Zoning Appeals.

Supporters see a man who is willing to crack the whip over lazy officials. Others see an arrogant and nasty taskmaster.

He stood by the Metro Rail subway system when many other officials were questioning its cost and usefulness in a city wedded to freeways.

Mayor Tom Bradley recently said Patsaouras never received enough credit for preserving the subway's funding, even when President Ronald Reagan and others tried to gut it.

The 49-year-old Tarzana resident also was an early proponent of the now-popular proposal to turn Los Angeles into a production center for electric cars, subway trains and pollution-free buses.

His 10-page blueprint, "Transportation as a Catalyst for Remaking Our City," describes how Patsaouras would leverage the $184 million earmarked for transportation in Los Angeles over 30 years to spark development.

By using publicly owned land near future train and subway stations, the city can promote construction of affordable housing, shops, theaters, day-care centers and parks, the plan says.

When critics call that plan too narrow for remaking the city, Patsaouras responds: "It will be a different story when their children read in the books that the . . . Greek was right."

Nick Patsaouras Born: Dec. 4, 1943. Residence: Tarzana. Education: B.A. in electrical engineering from Cal State Northridge. Career Highlights: Owner of Patsaouras & Associates, electrical engineering firm; founded Marathon National Bank; has served on the boards of the Southern California Rapid Transit District, the county Transportation Commission and the city Board of Zoning Appeals. Interests: Greek dancing. Family: Married.

Los Angeles Times Articles