In the final round of his last fight, Nate Holden, the pugnacious Los Angeles city councilman and onetime amateur boxer, has come out singing.
"It's How-dy Doo-dy time. It's How-dy Doo-dy time" he crooned, feigning serenity during an evening stroll to press the flesh with voters in his Central Los Angeles district. "I don't know why that guy thinks he has a chance," he said when sizing up his June 8 runoff opponent.
"That guy" is the Rev. Madison Shockley. He thinks he has a chance because, despite being a first-time candidate, he has cornered Holden into what could be his toughest council race since taking the 10th District seat in 1987.
For the second time in a row, Holden has failed to win a majority of votes in the primary election, forcing a runoff. Twice facing a runoff is in itself unusual for an incumbent, but Holden confronts another election year rarity: Four members of the City Council have turned against their colleague by endorsing Shockley.
The council's most consistent provocateur, Holden has represented an area including large sections of the Crenshaw district, Koreatown, Mid-City and West Adams for three terms. He has held his seat by relentlessly pursuing publicity for himself and public works projects for his constituents, becoming one of the most colorful and enduring figures in Los Angeles politics.
Holden has survived sexual harassment suits by women who worked for him, charges by opponents that he actually lives in Marina del Rey, and--more recently--disclosures that he may either have exploited loopholes in or violated campaign finance laws.
Now, as he makes his final run due to term limits, Holden is betting that, for one last time, he can rely on his tried and true formula--turning mended sidewalks and filled potholes into votes.
Holden's appeal is plainly apparent during his forays among the homeowners who have been the backbone of his political support. Imani and Maynard Brown called out to Holden as he walked past their house in the western edge of the district. "Thank you for the stop sign," said Imani Brown. "I told you he was a man of his word," her husband added.
The Browns, both 44, said they had told Holden's office that they needed a stop sign on their block to slow down the cars cutting through their neighborhood between Olympic and San Vicente boulevards. By delivering the stop sign, Holden locked up their vote.
"All I care about is how well he responds to the needs of our community," Imani Brown said.
Racially Mixed District
As Holden seeks to reap the rewards of his years of delivering such services, Shockley is hoping that the councilman's political capital has been spent. The challenger has tried to portray Holden--who said in 1995 that he would not seek another term--as mired in the politics of the past.
Shockley claims to be the candidate who can unite residents of a district that may be the city's most racially mixed. Holden, Shockley says, represents "old-style ethnic identity politics" that focus on African American interests at the expense of others.
Racial plurality defines the 10th District's 218,000 residents, 41% of whom are Latino, 35% African American, 14% Asian American and 10% white, according to the 1990 census.
As the pastor of the Congregational Church for Christian Fellowship, Shockley convened a series of discussions on race relations in the aftermath of the 1992 riots. Although Shockley's congregation is mostly African American, the church's Head Start program serves mainly Latino children, Shockley said.
If elected, Shockley said, he will bring residents together around such projects as turning vacant lots into mini-parks and forming neighborhood councils that would advise him on policy issues. Such councils, Shockley said, will give neighborhoods a voice they now lack.
Rejecting Holden's claims to be a master of constituent services, Shockley accuses the councilman of a heavy-handed leadership style that has in fact neglected residents' concerns. He cites as examples the deterioration of some of the district's main corridors, such as Pico, Washington, Venice and Jefferson boulevards, which are filled with motels, body shops and other businesses that many residents consider low-rent eyesores.
Shockley Seeks to Add Supporters
Although he is aggressively courting Latinos and new voters, Shockley acknowledges that he needs to draw backing from former Holden supporters to win.
He will depend on people like West Adams resident Walter Matsuura. Matsuura, 68, voted for Holden in the past, but said he decided to back Shockley when Holden reneged on his 1995 promise not to run again.
Matsuura said his support for Shockley, however, grew into resentment toward Holden when he and a few of his neighbors put Shockley campaign signs on their lawns. After posting the sign, Matsuura said he received a call from a neighborhood activist who asked him to take the sign down.