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Respected Lawmaker Julian Dixon Dies

Congress: The Los Angeles Democrat succumbs after apparently suffering a heart attack. The one-time head of the Black Caucus was known for rising above partisanship.


WASHINGTON — Rep. Julian C. Dixon of Los Angeles, a veteran Democrat who championed causes ranging from the city's subway project to civil rights and was an influential lawmaker on national security issues, died Friday. He was 66.

Officials at Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital in Marina del Rey, where Dixon died after surgery Friday morning, declined to release information on the cause of death. His aides in Congress said he suffered an apparent heart attack.

Dixon had undergone what an aide described as minor surgery unrelated to his heart about a week ago at the hospital. He returned to the hospital and underwent additional surgery Monday.

Gov. Gray Davis is expected to call a special election to choose a successor for Dixon in the solidly Democratic 32nd House District, which straddles the Santa Monica Freeway roughly between the Harbor and San Diego freeways, taking in the USC area, the Crenshaw district, Culver City, Koreatown, Ladera Heights, Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park, Cheviot Hills and Mar Vista. Dixon first won election to his seat in 1978; he was reelected last month with nearly 84% of the vote.

From Washington to his congressional district, the well-liked, soft-spoken Dixon was remembered as the consummate gentleman politician who rose above partisanship during a career in state and national politics dating to 1972.

Although he kept a low public profile, Dixon was well-known in Capitol Hill's corridors of power and among Los Angeles-area community leaders.

He was widely respected in Congress for taking on thankless but important jobs, including a sensitive ethics investigation in 1989 of then-House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas), who ultimately resigned.

A onetime chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Dixon was a leader in the mid-1980s in efforts to impose economic sanctions against South Africa because of its racial segregation policy. He was arrested in an anti-apartheid protest at the South African Embassy.

In recent years, he used his position as the senior California Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee to not only funnel federal largess to Los Angeles but to fend off efforts to cut funding for the much-maligned Los Angeles subway.

"We would not have Metro Rail in Los Angeles--it would have died midway through--were it not for Julian Dixon," said Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Mission Hills). "He held it together, more than any single person."

President Clinton praised Dixon as a legislator who "worked tirelessly for his district" and "worked hard to make sure that the voices of the less fortunate could always be heard."

Berman, a close friend who was elected to the state Assembly with Dixon in 1972, called him "a consummate institutional person. He was unique for the political class because he had his ego under control. He wanted to get it done rather than get his name or his face in front of the public. His interest was in accomplishing things and in loyalty to the institution."

Berman added: "When you had a political crisis, a personal problem, going out to dinner with Julian and having a couple of drinks was the best therapy you could get."

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) recalled Dixon as "an inside player who understood the importance of getting things done" in Congress.

"He wasn't one who used demagoguery or went out of the way to get the credit," Lewis added. "He was more interested in the accomplishment."

In the early 1980s, Dixon led the fight to undertake subway construction in Los Angeles, over the opposition of the Reagan administration. In later years, he became the go-to man in Congress when the project ran into political trouble because of cost overruns and other scandals.

After Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) objected to routing the subway down Wilshire Boulevard in his district because of concerns about underground methane gas, Dixon pushed to move the route south into his district.

The subway extension was never built because of the high cost and political opposition. But Dixon secured money this year for studying mass-transit alternatives in the Mid-City area and on the city's Eastside.

Dixon also sought money for Los Angeles for projects big and small--from $1 million for an exhibit of dinosaur eggs at the County Museum of Natural History in Exposition Park to the $565 million he helped add to a pending bill to reimburse states for jailing criminal illegal immigrants. He helped to secure federal aid for Los Angeles after the 1992 riots and the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

At the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, Dixon was remembered for helping secure about $5 million in federal grants for diversity training and lessons in tolerance for underprivileged youths, teachers and law enforcement officials.

"There isn't a single time where the Museum of Tolerance called upon him when he wasn't there," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center's dean and founder.

But aside from such legislative accomplishments, Dixon was lauded for the attitude he brought to politics.

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