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DECISION '94: Spotlight on Local Elections : Candidate Hopes to Create State Assembly's 1st Father-Son Team : Elections: With a win in the heavily Democratic 47th District, Windsor Hills lawyer Kevin Murray would join his dad, Willard (D-Paramount), in Sacramento.

October 20, 1994|JOHN BUZBEE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Confident of joining his father in the state Assembly after the November elections, Windsor Hills lawyer Kevin Murray is already looking ahead to rising to a leadership role in the political vacuum expected to result from term limits for legislative offices.

But first Murray will have to beat Republican challenger Jonathan Leonard and two minor-party candidates for the seat vacated by Assemblywoman Gwen Moore, who made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for Secretary of State.

Murray has reason to be confident--76% of the 47th District's registered voters are Democrats. Only 14% are Republicans. In the 1992 election, Leonard won only 14% of the vote against Moore's 81%. And this time around, Leonard does not appear to have the resources for an aggressive, districtwide campaign. He reported no campaign bankroll in his most recent finance statement, while Murray has reported raising $108,000.

He spent most of that in a tough, nine-candidate primary. With the help of his father, Assemblyman Willard Murray (D-Paramount), and supporters including Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Murray beat primary opponents who included a candidate backed by the powerful political machine of Reps. Howard Berman (D-Panorama City) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

He had something else going for him, he says. He knows the neighborhood.

"It was very important for me and my peer group, my friends, to run in an area where I grew up, where I rode my bike, where I had my first job," Murray said.

The 47th District covers parts of Baldwin Hills, the Crenshaw district, Culver City, Palms and South-Central Los Angeles. Its heart is predominantly black, upper- and middle-income neighborhoods, and it also has less affluent areas and a significant Jewish population, Murray said.

Analysts consider the district a sure win for Democrats. Leonard acknowledges that his challenge is to persuade voters to look beyond the party labels.

"We're going to get a lot of crossovers," he said. "People realize it's time to vote for the best person for the job."

The younger Murray did not take a traditional career path for a politician. He said that unlike the African American politicians of a previous generation, many of whom came from the church and the civil rights struggle, his experience is in business.

While a talent agent for the William Morris Agency, he studied comparative Asian economic systems for his MBA and then studied law. He received his business degree in 1983 and his law degree in 1987, both from Loyola Marymount University. In 1989, he began working in entertainment law and as a children's court advocate.

At first, he said, his father was skeptical about his run for office. "He wanted to make sure that I really wanted to do it, and he wanted to make sure I had what it took," Murray said.

But his father eventually helped run the campaign, lined up support in Sacramento and put him on his slate mailer. Murray won 21% of the primary vote, four points ahead of Ed Johnson, an aide to U.S. Rep. Julian Dixon (D-Los Angeles) who was backed by the Berman-Waxman machine, and teacher Jimmie Woods Gray.

In the general election campaign, Murray expects to spend only a fraction of the $83,000 he spent on the primary race. From July 1 through Sept. 30 he raised $17,000, he said. During that period, his biggest contributors were two $1,000 donors: Continental Cablevision and the Berman for Congress Committee, Johnson's allies in the primary. He also collected $975 from the California Real Estate PAC and $750 from United Teachers-Los Angeles.

Willard Murray said he expects to continue working closely with his son in Sacramento, where they would be the first father-son team in the Assembly.

"If I can take credit for anything, I have more credit as a father who helped raise a person who developed into a fine citizen," he said.

They do have differences. Willard Murray said his son supports strict gun control, while he does not, and in general his son is more liberal, he said.

They're both hoping Kevin will rise to leadership roles in the Assembly. Because of term limits, one of the new Assembly members elected in November will be a speaker in six years. But "we're not looking that far ahead," Willard Murray said.

Leonard, 63, a retired firefighter and lifelong resident of the area, said he believes he can appeal to Democratic voters with his ideas for improving education through increased community involvement and improving the economy with enterprise zones.

California's social problems, he said, cannot be resolved by the state's massive increase in prison construction. "We need to get jobs for this community," Leonard said. "(Prisons) are not the answer."

The similarity of Murray's name to that of a third-party candidate in the race, Libertarian Kevin Murphy, could confuse some voters.

A supporter of a cautious approach to such Libertarian policies as legalization of drugs, Murphy said he hopes to show that voters will respond if the Libertarians target less controversial issues such as lower taxes. Murphy, a computer programmer, also opposes restrictions on smoking and supports privatization of government services.

The Peace and Freedom candidate in the race is Tamara Taleebah, a teacher. In the primary, both Murphy and Taleebah ran uncontested.

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