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Kim Credits Faith by Voters for Win in 41st District Race : Congress: Incumbents Matthew Martinez and Carlos Moorhead handily beat challengers in primary contests.

June 09, 1994|RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The primary victory was surprisingly easy for Rep. Jay Kim (R-Diamond Bar), the target of an ongoing federal probe into alleged violations of election, tax and labor laws stemming from his 1992 campaign.

His main opponent had sent out mailers saying Kim had "betrayed" his constituency and calling him two-faced for running as a reform candidate during his last campaign.

So how did Kim do so well? "Hard to say," said the nation's first Korean congressman after his victory. "I think (the constituents are) reading carefully and looking at my voting record and my record as a congressman and they're happy with what I've done. I'm lucky my district is very intelligent, very high-quality."

Last summer, the congressman became the target of the federal probe after The Times reported he used about $480,000 from his engineering corporation to finance his 1992 federal campaign despite federal prohibitions. Kim has said he is, at most, guilty of technical violations.

Kim said he had not yet thought about his campaign for the general election, but he may have survived his toughest test. Voter registration in the district is 48% Republican to 40% Democrat, which does not bode well for urban redeveloper Ed Tessier, who won the Democratic primary.

The 41st District includes Diamond Bar, Pomona, Walnut and Rowland Heights, as well as parts of Orange and San Bernardino counties.

Kim said the negative campaign took a personal toll, but at the same time gave him strength.

"It hurt me. My wife cried. It was tough on me and my family," Kim said. "In spite of all the attacks, (the voters) love me. They have faith in me. I'm going to give everything I have. I want to be the best congressman in the history books."

Pundits said Kim benefited from the power of incumbency, which enabled him to raise far more money than his opponents. In addition, four challengers split the anti-Kim vote.

"The opposition vote (was) spread too thin," said veteran political consultant Joe Cerrell, who noted Kim finished without winning a majority of the vote. Valerie Romero, 30, finished her first campaign for public office second to Kim. She conceded the race shortly before midnight Tuesday.

Romero's campaign was aided by her father, Richard (Dick) Romero, an auto dealer and political fund-raiser who helped her raise money and gave instant legitimacy to her effort.

Romero, a vice president of her father's firm, fired the campaign's first negative barrage with her mailers. But Kim quickly responded, saying she misrepresented his legal problems and calling her a political novice who was propped up by her father.

Romero said she would have done better if two other challengers--Bob Kerns and Todd Thaker--had not received so many votes.

"It was a split vote," said Romero, who is now supporting Kim. "To take on the power of an incumbent was a great task, and if you divide that . . ."

Meanwhile, in the 31st District, Rep. Matthew G. (Marty) Martinez (D-Monterey Park) easily won his primary against a challenge from lawyer Bonifacio (Bonny) Garcia and two other candidates.

Martinez declined to comment.

Garcia, who lost to Martinez in the primary two years ago, finished a distant second to the seven-term incumbent.

He blamed his defeat in part on his opposition to abortion, an unpopular stance among many Democrats. Martinez is an abortion rights advocate.

"I think abortion was the quiet issue," Garcia said. "Anti-Marty voters went with Marty or (candidate Maria) Escalante as opposed to me because of that issue."

Garcia had run a negative campaign, hitting hard on Martinez's seemingly inconsistent stance on regulating firearms, his recent position on local Latino issues and his overall performance in Congress.

Martinez is expected to hold on to his seat in the largely Democratic district against John V. Flores, who won the Republican primary.

The 31st District includes Alhambra, Azusa, Baldwin Park, El Monte, South El Monte, Glendora, Industry, Irwindale, Monterey Park, Rosemead, San Gabriel, South San Gabriel, Temple City, West Covina, East Los Angeles and Los Angeles.

In the 27th District, Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale), the dean of the GOP members of California's congressional delegation, skated through his primary and will seek his 12th term in November. Elizabeth Michael, a former candidate for state Assembly, finished a distant second to Moorhead.

Doug Kahn, an Altadena print-shop owner, won the Democratic primary and could present Moorhead with a challenge in November. Kahn received 40% of the vote in 1992 against the congressman. The 27th District stretches from San Marino to Tujunga and has become more Democrat since reapportionment in 1992.

Times staff writer Renee Tawa and correspondent Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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