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ELECTIONS / ASSEMBLY 43RD DISTRICT

Neophytes in Tight Race for Seat Long Held by GOP

November 01, 1996|JULIE TAMAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ask Republican John Geranios why voters should elect him to represent the 43rd Assembly District and he starts gushing.

"I'm the absolute dream candidate for this district," he enthusiastically explains. "I'm a perfect match for the values of the voters here. . . . I'm fiscally conservative and I'm anti-illegal immigration."

Espousing such views in past was a sure ticket to winning the seat because the district, which encompasses Burbank, Glendale and parts of Los Feliz, has a history of electing Republicans, including incumbent James E. Rogan and former Assemblyman Pat Nolan.

But in this election year--when President Clinton leads Bob Dole in the polls and when voter records show an increasing Democratic edge in registered voters--the Democrats contend that they are positioned to break the Republicans' hold on the seat and that the polls back them up.

"I'm in a race that a year ago was considered to be a dead loser for any Democrat," said Scott Wildman, Geranios' Democratic opponent. "But this has turned into a horse race and we feel we're going to win it."

Dick Rosengarten, publisher of the political newsletter Calpeek, predicts Geranios will win the seat despite Democratic polls taken three weeks ago that show a neck-and-neck race. Rosengarten said Republican polls taken at the same time showed Geranios 6 to 10 percentage points ahead of Wildman.

Nonetheless, Rosengarten said the race was closer than many experts expected.

"For a month before the election for Geranios to be leading by such a slim margin is crazy," Rosengarten said. "John Geranios ought to be slaughtering Scott Wildman. Still, I fully expect Geranios to win."

For his part, Geranios has hinted that more recent polls by his campaign show his message is reaching voters. He has refused to reveal numbers, however, saying only, "We are where we need to be."

Though traditionally a Republican seat, the 43rd Assembly District has grown increasingly Democratic over the years. Recent voter records show that Democrats outnumber Republicans 45% to 39%. At nearly the same time four years ago, Democrats had outnumbered Republicans by only 43% to 42%.

"With each passing year this district becomes slightly more Democratic," said Steve Smith, political director for the California Democratic Party. "I think we're on the cusp this year of it becoming a Democratic district. But I think it will absolutely depend on who votes and who doesn't come Tuesday."

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While the tendency for Republicans to vote more faithfully than Democrats is well-known, what has not been established is the effect the presidential election will have on local races in which Democrats are eager to ride on Clinton's coattails.

"The Republicans will tell you there are no coattails and the Democrats will tell you the exact opposite," Rosengarten said. "That's the one big unknown this year."

Wildman and Geranios are vying for a seat vacated by Rogan, who is leaving after one term to run for Congress.

Both are not only political newcomers, but district newcomers as well.

The father of five children, Wildman, 45, previously operated his own print shop, was a fourth-grade teacher and represented various unions in Northern California until he moved to Los Feliz with his wife in November 1994. It was about this time that he went to work for United Teachers-Los Angeles.

Heavily backed by labor, Wildman has raised about $130,000, including $50,000 in contributions from the Democratic Central Committee. He is running on a platform that includes providing tax credits and other incentives to businesses to create jobs, putting more police officers on patrol and working to return local property tax dollars to the county.

He opposed last year's Proposition 187, which eliminates state services to illegal immigrants, and this year's Proposition 209, which would ban state and local affirmative action programs in public education, hiring and contracting. Wildman also believes the state's "three strikes" law needs to be studied.

Geranios, on the other hand, supports both immigration measures and the three-strikes law. He favors local control of schools and the breakup of the Los Angeles Unified School District, putting welfare recipients back to work and streamlining the federal, state and local permit process to attract new companies to California and to help existing ones expand.

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In addition to a college planning and counseling business he started at 17, Geranios is a business professor at Mt. St. Mary's College in Brentwood. He moved from his home in the Hollywood Hills to his grandmother's home in Glendale in August 1995 and purchased a condominium in Glendale several months ago. His business has been in Burbank since 1992.

After hiring a top political consultant, Geranios beat out seven other candidates during a nasty GOP primary during which his company loaned his campaign between $400,000 and $450,000. After his primary win, he said his campaign was prepared to spend as much in the general election.

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