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ELECTIONS / CITY COUNCIL : Incumbents Face Serious Challenges : Politics: Hernandez is favored to win in the 1st District on Tuesday, but Walters in the 9th and Flores in the 15th may be headed for runoffs.

April 18, 1993|GREG KRIKORIAN | This article was reported by Times staff writers Greg Krikorian, Robert J. Lopez and Lisa Richardson. It was written by Krikorian

Three City Council seats representing parts of Los Angeles' urban core are at stake in Tuesday's election, with two incumbents fighting serious challenges to their reelection.

While Councilman Mike Hernandez is expected to win a four-year term to his 1st District seat, both the 9th District's Rita Walters and the 15th District's Joan Milke Flores appear to face tougher contests. Here is a summary of the races:

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1st District--Facing two opponents who lack the money and broad-based support for effective challenges, Hernandez, 40, is the heavy favorite to win reelection Tuesday.

A longtime Latino activist, Hernandez was elected to the seat 19 months ago to fill the unexpired term of Gloria Molina, who moved to the county Board of Supervisors. In the current campaign, Hernandez has collected more than $122,000 in contributions and a host of endorsements, ranging from the Los Angeles Police Protective League to the Mexican American Political Assn. and the Northeast Democratic Club.

Challengers Jean-Marie Durand, 60, and Esther Castillo Long, 63, have raised about $3,300 and $10,000, respectively, and lack major endorsements. Still, both Durand and Long insist they can force Hernandez into a runoff.

But City Hall lobbyist Art Snyder, who for years represented portions of what is now the 1st District and was renowned for the constituent service he provided, said he believes Hernandez has little to worry about.

"For such a short period of time (in office), Mike has done a good job of bringing services into the community," said Snyder, who once employed Long as a field deputy in Lincoln Heights. "It doesn't seem to me that there's any substantial opportunity to beat him."

The district, which stretches from Mt. Washington to Pico-Union, includes some of the city's poorest, most crime-ridden and densely populated neighborhoods. As such, crime and jobs have topped the candidates' agendas.

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9th District--Walters, who two years ago won a hard-fought race to fill a vacancy created by the death of longtime Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, this time is challenged by her 1991 opponent, veteran City Council aide Bob Gay, and investment banker Donald Lumpkin.

Political observers believe Walters' prospects for winning reelection Tuesday and avoiding a June runoff depend largely on how many votes Lumpkin collects. The 42-year-old Lumpkin has waged an aggressive campaign against the 62-year-old Walters, attacking not only her time on the council but her 12 years on the Los Angeles school board. But his campaign has been financed almost entirely by his own bank account; he may end up loaning his campaign about $65,000.

Lumpkin has come under attack by Gay for his status as a registered Republican--a likely liability in the predominantly Democratic district that runs from South-Central to Chinatown and includes Downtown.

Gay, meanwhile, is hoping this campaign will pick up where his last left off--76 votes shy of Walters' total. Stressing his years as an aide to Lindsay, Gay, 40, tells voters he is more qualified for office than Lumpkin and more attuned to the district than Walters. His contributors include the city's police and fire unions.

But Walters has plenty of politically potent supporters herself, including Mayor Tom Bradley. And her campaign has countered Gay's criticism with claims that the district was sorely neglected during the tenure of his political mentor, Lindsay.

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15th District--Flores, a three-term incumbent, faces the toughest race of her council career, with critics claiming her efforts to reach higher office--secretary of state in 1990 and Congress last year--show she has lost interest in her district.

Flores' supporters argue that she has brought millions of dollars to the district for projects. They say her knowledge of how City Hall works will be vital with a new mayor and other officials coming to power.

The conventional wisdom is that while Flores, 56, is unlikely to win reelection outright, she will capture one of two spots in a June runoff. Among her six opponents, strong challenges have been mounted by Janice Hahn, daughter of former County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, and Los Angeles School Board member Warren Furutani.

Both Furutani, 45, and Hahn, 40, are hoping to tap into a vein of voter discontent within the district, which stretches from San Pedro to Watts.

A dark-horse candidate is San Pedro businessman Rudy Svorinich, 32, who has waged a surprisingly strong, well-financed campaign.

Also running are San Pedro attorneys Diane Middleton, 49, and James Thompson, 36, and Louis Dominguez, 46, who heads computer operations in Bradley's office.

Middleton's campaign has focused on creating jobs, and she has strong support from some Harbor-area social agencies and organized labor.

Thompson, who has worked for the city and the state Bar Assn., is a newcomer to local politics. But he participated on several Wilmington and San Pedro citizen committees.

Dominguez has stressed ethics, saying government cannot serve people who do not trust it. He has strong ties to the state and national Democratic Party.

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