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October 26, 1994|JOHN SCHWADA

Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), 44, was first elected to the Assembly in 1980. A former print shop owner, he is married.

Republican challenger Nicholas Fitzgerald, 32, is a computer technician at Warner Bros. studios in Burbank who also ran against Katz in 1992. The Panorama City resident is married and has two children.

With term limits, Katz is facing his final term representing this sure-fire Democratic district. And that has launched a spate of speculation about what paths the versatile Katz may take after reelection (which seems beyond doubt), including recurring talk that he may be in line for some high government appointment.

Just rumor, Katz has replied. But there is no doubt Katz has entertained bigger political ambitions. Soon after winning reelection in 1992, Katz launched his campaign for Los Angeles mayor, an ill-starred endeavor in which Katz placed fourth - behind two candidates (now-mayor Richard Riordan and Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs) who supported the popular Valley cry to break up the Los Angeles school district. Within months, Katz switched sides himself and joined the school breakup forces.

During the past two years, Katz has been his usual active self. He engineered a compromise that overcame initial federal Environmental Protection Agency concerns and largely kept intact California's system of gas station operated smog-inspection outlets, and he won approval for a $1 million plan to put metal detectors in schools to screen for weapons.

Finally, Katz secured adoption of a law to sharply curtail the ability of violent felons to win early release from prison by chalking up so-called good time credits. This measure, Katz later groused, was such a fine piece of a tough-on-crime legislation that Gov. Pete Wilson tried to hijack it as his own.

Meanwhile, Katz' challenger, Fitzgerald, says the incumbent is weak on crime. Fitzgerald wants parents prosecuted as accessories if their minor children commit crimes. "Anyone who lives in my neighborhood and is not angry about crimes and taxes is not engaged," said Fitzgerald who has been endorsed by the Christian Coalition and the National Rifle Assn.

Registration in this east Valley melting pot of cultures is 62% Democratic, 26% Republican.

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