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Mayoral Candidates Make Pitches for Latino Votes


More than half a dozen candidates had plunged into the Los Angeles mayoral race by November, but a large question loomed over the contest to succeed Tom Bradley: What will Gloria do?

County Supervisor Gloria Molina sat atop virtually all of the early polls of potential mayoral candidates. She is the first Latina to be elected to the state Assembly, the Los Angeles City Council and the County Board of Supervisors. Would she also try to add the mayor's office to that impressive list?

Molina decided Nov. 17 not to leave the board after serving only 20 months, throwing the mayoral race wide open. Her decision left former U.S. ambassador to Mexico Julian Nava as the best-known Latino in a field of candidates that then included Councilmen Michael Woo, Nate Holden and Joel Wachs, transportation planner Nick Patsaouras and former Deputy Mayor Tom Houston.

The field quickly grew more crowded, attracting attorney-businessman Richard Riordan, Assemblyman Richard Katz, attorney Stan Sanders, Councilman Ernani Bernardi and former Deputy Mayor Linda Griego.

Eventually, a record 24 candidates wound up in the race, including Latinos Nava, Griego and former Los Angeles Police Department Lt. John Z. Borunda.

Nava, a history professor at Cal State Northridge and a former member of the Los Angeles Unified School Board, has proposed establishing an 8,000-member corps of volunteers to supplement the Police Department and imposing a graduated tax on income earned in the city.

Griego, a relative newcomer to politics, refurbished an old firehouse and turned it into Engine Co. 28, a plush downtown restaurant. In 1991, Bradley named her deputy mayor in charge of economic development. Her campaign has focused on job creation, economic revitalization and streamlined government. She has attracted endorsements from Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Councilman Mike Hernandez and some feminist organizations.

Borunda, a business consultant, says crime is the voters' primary concern, and he advocates adding 900 LAPD officers--an increase he says can be accomplished without a bond issue. Jobs and problems facing business are intertwined with crime, he says, because the city cannot attract business without solving the crime problem.

Nava, Griego and Borunda are long shots at best, but some observers believe that the Latino vote could be crucial in what is expected to be a close primary on April 20.

Although Latinos are 40% of the population, they make up only 11% of voters, with 140,000 voters registered citywide. But Latino ballots could be a crucial swing vote in a field this large. None of the candidates is expected to get more than 50% of the votes, setting up a runoff election June 8 between the first- and second-place finishers.

The difference between finishing second and third in the primary could be only a few hundred votes, said Loyola Marymount University political scientist Fernando Guerra, who heads the school's Chicano studies department.

"I calculate that Latinos will be 10% to 11% of the total vote," said Guerra. "If you compare it to the total population, that's very disappointing. But it's still one of every 10 voters."

Richard Martinez, executive director of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, noted that Latinos may have a small total registration, "but in a race like this it cannot be ignored."

Candidates in the large field have been jockeying to capture public attention, campaign contributions and political endorsements, resulting in a clamor that has left even veteran politicians struggling to just register as a blip in some polls.

In a city attempting to heal from the violence of last spring, candidates are groping to define or capture a theme that will ignite their campaigns.

Woo has emerged as the frontrunner, with polls showing him with just over 20% of the vote. He is one of four candidates who Guerra says have targeted the Latino community and decided that Latinos are a necessary factor in a winning strategy. Nava, Griego and Patsaouras are the others.

"What is significant for Latinos in this race is that there are candidates who appeal to Latino voters, and Latino--or anti-Latino--issues have come up," Guerra said.

Nava captured early public notice when he spoke in favor of giving legal immigrants limited voting rights, such as in school board elections. And Houston was branded a racist by some Latino critics who attacked his call for deporting illegal immigrants who join gangs.

"Houston's anti-Latino message--equating immigrants with criminals--shows that an anti-immigrant theme in a heavy immigrant city didn't work," Guerra said, noting that Houston's support stood at only 2% in a recent poll.

Nava and Griego have captured important endorsements, but Woo's lead is attributable in part to his ability to capture support in diverse communities, Guerra said.

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