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Olympian to Run for City Council

Politics: Paul Gonzalez, a gold medalist in 1984, hopes to unseat Nick Pacheco. He'll likely face long odds, especially if Villaraigosa enters race.

June 20, 2002|SEEMA MEHTA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Olympic boxer Paul Gonzalez, who became a hometown hero when he won a gold medal at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, announced Wednesday that he is challenging City Councilman Nick Pacheco for the 14th District seat.

"It's time for a change," said Gonzalez, who was the first Mexican American to win an Olympic gold medal. "I'm running because the 14th District needs to be represented and I believe I'm the man that can do the job for them."

Observers of Eastside politics said Gonzalez faces an uphill battle against the incumbent in the April election, especially if former state Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa enters the race.

Frank Villalobos, a Boyle Heights activist and president of Barrio Planners, an architectural firm, said Gonzalez is widely viewed as a hero on the Eastside.

"Paul Gonzalez not only represents our community as an athlete, but I think that there's a real recognition that he came from the projects and here's one of the people that went good out of the projects," Villalobos said. "But in terms of politics, I don't think people are necessarily looking at him."

Indeed, most political speculation is focused on whether Villaraigosa will seek the office. The former mayoral candidate who was defeated by Mayor James K. Hahn last year declined to comment Wednesday on his intentions, but in recent weeks has told political supporters that he is considering a run for Pacheco's seat.

Villaraigosa said Wednesday that he considers Gonzalez a friend and understands why he's running.

"The 14th Council District is a great district that deserves good representation," Villaraigosa said. "There's a great deal of concern about the quality of representation in that district."

Pacheco responded by saying that his work for the district speaks for itself.

"We have a strong record. We feel that we can beat anybody," he said. "The real question for Antonio if he runs: Is he committed to the district or is this just a steppingstone?"

Two others have also announced that they are running for Pacheco's seat--Alvin Parra, who works for Supervisor Gloria Molina, and William M. Morrison.

Indeed, Gonzalez says he is running to serve his community, to which he remained committed after he gained fame and glory during the 1984 Games.

Gonzalez, 37, is a motivational speaker and teaches boxing at Hollenbeck Youth Center, where he trained for the Olympics.

Gonzales filed papers to run for the 14th District seat in 1999, but failed to gather enough petition signatures to be placed on the ballot.

Gonzalez said that in that attempt, he filed too late and had not assembled a large team to back his campaign.

This year, he filed papers in January. The election is in April 2003.

Gonzalez has received endorsements from high-profile supporters, including Sheriff Lee Baca and former Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks.

Additionally, a number of athletes, including boxer Evander Holyfield and gold-medal diver Pat McCormick, have endorsed Gonzalez.

Despite what look like long odds, Gonzalez said he is looking forward to the campaign.

"I know it's going to be a fight. I'm ready for a fight. I'm a fighter," he said. "Not only am I a fighter, but I'm a champion. I'm a winner."

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