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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. : Stan Sanders : A Bid to Regain Fame of 1960s

April 11, 1993|MARC LACEY

There was a time when Stan Sanders looked like a shoo-in for elected office.

In the late 1960s he was known across the city--and across the country--as the Rhodes scholar from Watts. One of the first blacks to earn that honor, the Jordan High School graduate was given a Stan Sanders Day in his neighborhood. Elected officials admired his political potential.

"At one point, he was a hot item . . . and probably could have easily won some public office," said John Mack, who heads the local Urban League.

But Sanders, a young lawyer just out of Yale, decided there was plenty he could do without appearing on the ballot. He worked for a public interest law firm and later formed his own law partnership emphasizing black businesses. On the side, he volunteered for city commissions and nonprofit groups. Mayor Tom Bradley appointed him to the city's Recreation and Parks Commission.

Sanders remained content with his life out of the limelight. By the time he joined 23 others on the ballot to replace Bradley he discovered that his name had lost its glow. Even in South-Central Los Angeles, where Sanders was once so celebrated, many young leaders knew only vaguely of him.

Sanders, 50, said Bradley's retirement, the 1992 riots and a sense of decline in the city prompted him to run. A goal is to bring back the celebrity of his youth by reminding voters about his story. His Rhodes scholarship comes up again and again. His campaign literature is a glossy resume.

Sanders' polling data indicates that voters are impressed with his background when they learn about it. His appearances at mayoral forums have won over voters, too, some post-forum straw votes show. But fund raising has been slow, and relatively few rank-and-file voters know his name, polls indicate.

In official circles, Sanders does better. A longtime Bradley supporter, he counts Hollywood celebrities, well-known athletes, business leaders and politicians among his friends. Entertainer Bill Cosby was the featured guest at the opening of Sanders' South-Central Los Angeles campaign headquarters. Classmate supporters from Oxford include Sen. David Boren (D-Okla.) and CIA Director R. James Woolsey Jr.

In his campaign, Sanders has stressed the need to reinvigorate the city's economy, primarily by encouraging the development of small businesses. He considers the breakup of the Los Angeles Unified School District to be an election-year gimmick. He says he intends to be "the education mayor," one who will highlight the importance of education in lifting up the poor.

The difficulty he faces in trying to re-create the coalition that sent Bradley to the mayor's office four times is a race dominated by better-known, better-financed candidates competing for the same South-Central and Westside voting blocs.

Sanders says there was a time when things did not look hopeful for President Bill Clinton either. Both Clinton and Sanders are Rhodes scholars, and the Sanders campaign has played up the connection, noting that both men have daughters named Chelsea.

Clinton won over voters with bus tours, and Sanders has adopted a similar technique. In a rented Greyhound bus covered with campaign signs, Sanders is traveling the city in the days leading up to the April 20 primary, stopping at Venice Beach, an East Los Angeles gym, a Watts elementary school. He dubs the effort "Around L.A. in 80 Days."

He is hoping the publicity blitz will bring back a magic that is 25 years old.

Stan Sanders Born: Aug. 9, 1942. Residence: Mid-City. Education: Bachelor's degree from Whittier College. Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University, law degree from Yale University. Career Highlights: Senior Partner at Sanders & Dickenson, a small corporate law firm; member of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission, president of the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Commission. Interests: Reading, yoga, crossword puzzles.

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