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California and the West

Bono's Widow Announces Candidacy for House Seat

January 23, 1998|MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Mary Bono, the widow of U.S. Rep. Sonny Bono, officially declared her candidacy Thursday to succeed her late husband in Congress, tiptoeing into the contest via news release.

"Prior to reaching this decision, I had many in-depth discussions with my family and close friends," she said in a seven-paragraph statement faxed to reporters. "We all agreed that Sonny would have encouraged me to continue his work. I want to do that."

Bono, making her first try at public office, is expected to have the Republican field to herself.

Her low-key entry into the race was unusual. Typically, a candidate will hold a news conference in hopes of launching a campaign with a burst of publicity.

But the 36-year-old widow of the celebrity congressman, who died in a Jan. 5 skiing accident that drew international attention, hardly needs to boost her name recognition.

At the same time, by avoiding questions, the political newcomer may have sought to avert the sort of stumbles that marked her late husband's first run for federal office, an unsuccessful 1992 U.S. Senate bid in which he displayed a seemingly poor grasp of issues.

A family friend who handled Mary Bono's announcement Thursday denied that she wished to duck questions. "Those things will happen Feb. 2," said Mark Matthews, referring to a series of appearances Bono intends to make that day across the district, which stretches from the outskirts of Riverside to the Arizona border. "She's qualified and prepared to do this."

In the meantime, Bono said in her statement, she plans to focus on family matters and a memorial service planned in Washington next week.

Bono married her late husband in February 1986, two years after they met at his West Hollywood restaurant, where she had gone to celebrate her graduation as a USC art history major. The couple had two children.

On the Democratic side, actor Ralph Waite--Pa Walton of the old TV series--has sent strong signals that he intends to challenge Bono. Mark Nichols, chief executive of the Cabazon band of Mission Indians, appears more uncertain about entering the race.

An April 7 primary has been scheduled to fill the seat vacated by the death of Republican Bono, first elected in 1994. If no candidate receives a majority in the primary, the top finishers in each party will meet in a June 2 runoff.

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