Decision '93 / A Look at the Elections in Los Angeles County : Los Angeles City Council : 15TH DISTRICT : 2 Defeats for Higher Office Dispel Flores' Invincibility


Not long ago it was unthinkable that Joan Milke Flores would have to worry about being ousted from her City Council seat.

But two high-profile defeats in bids for state and federal office have changed the conventional wisdom about Flores in the 15th District, which stretches from San Pedro to Watts.

She lost to incumbent Democrat March Fong Eu in the 1990 race for secretary of state, then was upset by Democrat Jane Harman in November in the 36th Congressional District race.

The reversals--particularly the congressional loss in a South Bay-based district that had been considered GOP turf--have dispersed Republican Flores' aura of invincibility, although she is still the perceived front-runner. And she is facing strong, well-financed challengers.

Six candidates oppose Flores: Louis Dominguez of San Pedro, an aide to Mayor Tom Bradley; San Pedro businesswoman Janice Hahn, daughter of former County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn; Los Angeles school board member Warren Furutani; San Pedro attorney Diane Middleton; San Pedro businessman Rudy Svorinich, and James Thompson of San Pedro, an attorney and engineer.

The toughest challenges are expected from Furutani and Hahn, although Svorinich has strong support in San Pedro and others have pockets of support.

Hahn, who moved from Long Beach to San Pedro last fall, has virtually no record in local affairs in any of the district's communities. She said she gained valuable experience making the rounds with her father, who was on the County Board of Supervisors for four decades before stepping down last year.

Hahn has drawn support, particularly in Wilmington, by tapping into the strong sentiment that the district has been neglected by City Hall.

"Where is that $44 million going to be disbursed?" Hahn asked at a Wilmington candidates forum, referring to money the city took from the Port of Los Angeles to balance its budget.

"Will a significant amount be invested in the communities in the Harbor? After all, people in the Harbor are suffering the damage done to their roads and streets purely as a result of being next door."

Furutani is the only challenger to have held elective office. That is a mixed blessing because some people blame him for the school system's problems.

His campaign was stalled last month when the city clerk's office disqualified him from the race, asserting that he did not have enough valid voter signatures on his nominating petition to qualify for the ballot.

A Superior Court judge revived his candidacy, ruling that Furutani had gathered the required 500 signatures. It cost Furutani valuable campaign time, but he said it shows he knows the frustrations of dealing with city officials.

"In a way, I can't feel sorry for myself because everyday citizens get the same cold shoulder from City Hall," he said.

Svorinich has focused his campaign on his family's 70 years of residency in San Pedro and his 10 years as a businessman in Wilmington. With few ties to the northern portion of the district, Svorinich has portrayed himself as the candidate who best knows the Harbor Area, taking a puckish delight in slamming his opponents as carpetbaggers, career politicians and nonentities.

The owner of Industrial Paint in Wilmington, Svorinich says he has the business expertise the district needs. Noting the loss of aerospace jobs in the 15th District, Svorinich said he would work to improve the local business climate to keep and attract businesses.

Middleton has picked up support with unapologetically liberal stands. She said she would push Washington to increase dramatically its funding for cities.

"I believe the role of every elected official at every level is to knock on Washington's door," she said. "In a prior time the federal government was shouldering more of a fair share, and all of that has been shifted onto the backs of the cities."

Dominguez, who has been active in Harbor community groups ranging from the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce to the Point Fermin Lighthouse Assn., has been a delegate to the last three Democratic National Conventions.

His connections to the national Democratic Party would be a bonus for the district, he said. Staid and serious, Dominguez promises honesty, order and responsiveness to residents' concerns from traffic lights to social problems.

"Ethics is something I consider to be very important," he said. "Nobody trusts government anymore. And if the people do not trust their government, a democracy cannot work. The people need to believe we are there working for them and leading by example."

Thompson, who said he is using about $400 in savings to conduct his campaign, advocates going to court to solve some of the district's problems, including suing the city to keep it from taking port funds.

The problems facing the city are too serious for the people to elect well-meaning but unskilled candidates who do not understand the complex relationships between city departments, said Thompson, a former engineer for the city's Department of Water and Power.

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