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Latino Candidates Slowly Make Inroads


A second Latino is expected to win election April 20 to the Los Angeles school board, symbolic of a slow but steady increase in the number of local Latino public officials.

In Los Angeles City Council elections next week, Councilman Mike Hernandez is heavily favored to win reelection, while two Latinos are considered strong contenders in the reconfigured 7th District.

Latinos held 3% of the City Council seats available throughout Los Angeles County in 1960, according to studies by Prof. Fernando Guerra of Loyola Marymount University. This figure increased to 14% by 1990, and to 19% as of last April's municipal elections, he said.

MALDEF Vice President Arturo Vargas, in anticipation of Latino electoral gains, said: "It's a positive step for the Latino community to have more identifiable leadership."

Only three Latinos have served on the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District: Julian Nava, from 1967 to 1979; Larry Gonzalez, from 1983 to 1987, and Leticia Quezada, elected in 1987 and the current board president.

Two Latinos have never been on the board at the same time. But either Gonzalez or pPrincipal Victoria Castro, the two front-runners in the District 2 race, is expected to join Quezada on the seven-member board.

Political observers said it is not certain whether either Gonzalez or Castro will win more than 50% of the vote. If no candidate gets a majority, a runoff election would take place June 8 between the two top vote-getters.

In addition to Gonzalez, station manager at KMEX-TV, and Castro, principal of Belvedere Junior High, community activist Willene Cooper is running in District 2.

Gonzalez has said his business expertise will help him attack bureaucratic waste while Castro said her front-line experience has put her in touch with the schools' needs. Cooper insists that she is the only one who speaks for parents.

They are competing for a seat on a school board confronted by budget cuts, needy students and labor strife. The district is also threatened with a movement to break it up.

Although "it will be great to have two Latinos on the school board," Vargas said that, with all the pivotal issues involved, he is "concerned about the direction the school district will take."

The 2nd District was created last year when the City Council assembled South Gate, Huntington Park, Maywood, Bell and Cudahy into a single district designed for maximum Latino voting strength. It also includes Boyle Heights, Echo Park, Silver Lake and Pico-Union.

Latinos make up 80% of the district's residents and about half of its registered voters.


When Gloria Molina was elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1991, Mike Hernandez overwhelmed his competitors to win the right to succeed her on the City Council, capturing 65% of the vote.

Hernandez is considered a sure bet to be reelected in the 1st District, which stretches from Mt. Washington, northeast of downtown, to Pico-Union. He is being challenged by businessman Jean-Marie Durand of Highland Park and Lincoln Heights' Esther Castillo Long, once an aide to former Councilman Art Snyder and Mayor Tom Bradley.


The 7th District was redrawn to be a "Latino seat" last year by the City Council, with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Latino Coalition keeping a close watch.

But the "Latino district" may not be one at all. Although Latinos make up 70% of the population, nearly half of the district's registered voters are Anglos, making them the biggest group of voters. Only 31% are Latinos and 19% are African-Americans.

Three Latinos are among the seven candidates seeking to succeed Councilman Ernani Bernardi. Two of them--Sylmar attorney Raymond Magana and Richard Alarcon, Mayor Bradley's top Valley aide--are considered contenders.

Political observers say the front-runner is City Fire Capt. Lyle E. Hall, who forced Bernardi into a 1989 runoff election.

Contributing to this story were Los Angeles Times staff writers Duke Helfand, Robert Lopez and Jack Cheevers.

Election Day

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on April 20 to elect a mayor and eight council members in Los Angeles, three members of the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education, three community college trustees and posts in a few other cities.

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