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PROFILE: XAVIER BECERRA

Congressman Tests His Winning Streak

Mayor's race: Diligence, strong allies are hallmarks. But Becerra has had trouble offering a clear vision.

March 12, 2001|MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

(Friends also confirm that his wife, an obstetrician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, wanted him to return to Los Angeles so he could spend more time with their three young daughters.)

Not the Only Golden Boy

After casting about for a campaign theme, Becerra eventually sought to tie his disparate proposals together under the rubric of "neighborhoods first." But his specific ideas tend to resemble mom-and-apple-pie bromides.

He talks about getting every child a library card, about making the Los Angeles Zoo the best in the nation, about making sure everyone has a good school, grocery store, fire station and place to worship near home.

During mayoral forums, while the other candidates draw specific rationales for their candidacies, Becerra repeats his neighborhoods theme religiously, often redundantly.

"We have to do the little things right," he tells audiences. "Some people say, that's small thinking. But there's no way I can think about these big things until we start to get the little things right."

Some wonder aloud why Becerra is running. He has raised the least money of the top six candidates in the April 10 primary election, and had only about $600,000 on hand at the end of February, compared to Hahn's $2.2 million. Villaraigosa's presence on the ballot further complicates Becerra's chances.

"At one time, he was the golden boy of Hispanic politics in Los Angeles, and now he's finding out there's others who have a claim to that title," said Sergio Bendixen, a Miami-based political analyst and pollster who has experience in California campaigns.

While some say his political path has been made easier by influential champions, Becerra insists that his lack of sheer ambition means he is not overly enticed by the power that accompanies elected office.

"I don't covet it," he said. "I fear people who must have it, whatever it takes."

He brushes aside criticism that he is ill-positioned for victory. People had the same doubts about his prospects when he first ran for office, he said.

His sunny analysis of the toughest race of his career: "We have nowhere to go but up."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Xavier Becerra

* Born: Jan. 26, 1958, in Sacramento.

* Education: Stanford University, bachelor's degree in economics (1980); Stanford University Law School (1984).

* Personal: Married to Carolina Reyes, obstetrician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Three daughters: Clarisa, 7, Olivia, 5, and Natalia, 3.

* Party: Democrat

* Career: Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1993-present; state assemblyman, 1990-1992; deputy attorney general, 1987-1990.

* Strategy: Becerra is counting on the support of nearly 78,000 people who voted for him in his congressional bid in November. His campaign hopes to win more votes by pushing his "Neighborhoods First" theme in small community meetings. He is also working to shore up Latino support with frequent appearances in Spanish-language media.

*

Times researcher Maloy Moore contributed to this story.

About This Series

The Times today presents the first of six profiles of the major candidates for mayor of Los Angeles. The articles will appear in the order in which the candidates will appear on the ballot.

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