City Councilman Michael Woo surged to an early lead in the mayor's race on the strength of his reputation as the council leader in the struggle to oust former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates after the police beating of Rodney G. King.
Now Woo is looking to a base of support reminiscent of the multiethnic coalition that sustained outgoing Mayor Tom Bradley for 20 years. Campaigning heavily among African-Americans, gays, labor leaders, inner-city activists and Westside liberals, Woo has cast himself as the candidate who is best qualified to ease the city's explosive racial and social tensions.
Woo has received contributions from Asian-Americans throughout the country, from the entertainment industry, from the city's gay community and from many of the same lobbyists, lawyers, consultants and real estate developers who have done business with the city during Bradley's tenure.
He has impressed audiences with his poise and assurance. As he reels off proposed solutions to homelessness, teen-age unemployment and drive-by shootings, he can sound like a quiz show contestant who has memorized an encyclopedia.
"The thing that strikes you about Mike Woo," said a member of a civic group that interviewed nine of the mayoral candidates, "is that he is focused and primed and that he wants the job more than any of the others."
Woo, 41, is the grandson of prosperous Chinese immigrants. He grew up in Monterey Park and Silver Lake, a few minutes from downtown. At UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley in the late 1960s and early '70s, Woo honed his liberal politics as a student activist and journalist. At Berkeley, where Woo got a master's degree in city planning, his political views and fascination with urban culture came together in an activist philosophy of government that is reflected in his campaign speeches.
"Our city is now moving in a direction of more involuntary diversity in terms of people coming to grips with different kinds, different cultures, different ethnic backgrounds and different economic backgrounds in a way they didn't have to in the past," he said.
"It will be incumbent on the mayor and other leaders of the city to find ways to enable people to be comfortable with that."
Woo calls for more police officers and less police brutality. He pledges economic aid to poor neighborhoods and incentives to small business. Woo has promised to reorganize the city bureaucracy to make it easier for businesses to comply with the city's morass of regulations. And he says he is tough enough to reduce the size of departments if doing so is necessary to balance the budget.
At the heart of his campaign are his promises to the people he considers his core constituency. He has said he would provide up to $100 million in city-guaranteed loans to businesses in South Los Angeles. To Latino audiences, he has said he favors creating a city office of immigrant affairs. He has promised gay groups that he would appoint a homosexual to the Police Commission.
All this has led to opponents' charges of currying favor. But the harshest criticism is of his council representation of Hollywood.
After nearly eight years, Woo's legacy includes lawsuits, failed revitalization projects, abandoned businesses, gangs, graffiti and demoralized constituents. Although he created a network of social service agencies for homeless people, teen-age runaways and AIDS patients, the failures and fractiousness he leaves behind have raised questions about his proudest campaign boast--that he can heal a city's wounds and unite its factions.
Michael Woo Born: Oct. 8, 1951. Residence: Silver Lake. Education: UC Santa Cruz, bachelor's degree; UC Berkeley, master's degree. Career Highlights: Member of the Los Angeles City Council since 1985. Interests: Jazz, architecture, reading. Family: Married.