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Mike Gordon, 47; Assemblyman Was Ex-Mayor of El Segundo, Businessman

June 26, 2005|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Assemblyman Mike Gordon, a Democrat from El Segundo who was diagnosed with a brain tumor after his election in November, died Saturday morning at his home after four months of treatment.

His death will trigger a special election to replace him in the 53rd Assembly District, which stretches from West Los Angeles down the coast to Torrance and inland to Lomita.

Democratic leaders heralded the 47-year-old Gordon as a promising leader when he took office in January.

Some said his political experience and ability to bring people together made him a potential Assembly speaker. Gordon quickly introduced 22 bills, many directed at his coastal district and reflecting his six years as mayor of El Segundo.

But he had been absent from the Capitol since mid-February, when, feeling ill and exhausted, he sought medical help and doctors discovered the tumor.

His staff and fellow lawmakers shepherded his legislation while he underwent radiation treatment.

Involved in politics since he registered voters for Assembly Speaker Leo McCarthy at age 18, the La Mirada native served as a staffer to former Assemblyman Bruce Young (D-Downey), worked as executive director of the California Democratic Party from 1982 to 1985, and was a founder of the telemarketing firm Gordon and Schwenkmeyer Inc. The El Segundo company employs nearly 150 people in polling, research and fundraising.

Gordon was elected to the El Segundo City Council in 1996 and served as mayor from 1998 until he stepped down in April 2004 to run for the Assembly.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) called Gordon "both a great friend and one of the most capable and committed of California's officeholders."

"His goal in life was to make a difference," Nunez said. "The citizens of El Segundo know that he succeeded with flying colors."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement Saturday saying California had "lost a dedicated young leader whose contributions to our state and community will always be remembered."

Colleagues credit Gordon with helping to lead the fight against plans for the expansion of Los Angeles International Airport and with organizing the regional alliance that helped persuade the Pentagon in May to keep open the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo. The facility provides 4,500 jobs and is considered the heart of the South Bay's aerospace industry.

As El Segundo mayor, Gordon helped arrange the land swap that cleared the way for new office and research buildings on the base. That modernization, some say, helped protect the base from closure.

"He single-handedly brought together the coalition to save the Air Force base," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, a friend of Gordon's since they met more than 30 years ago as members of the Cerritos Optimist Club.

"It's unfortunate that legacies have to be created at such an early age."

Torrance Councilman Ted Lieu, who was Gordon's campaign manager, said that at least his friend lived to see the base survive a round of Department of Defense closures. He remembered Gordon as a dedicated family man, who arrived late for one of his own fundraisers so he could watch a Little League game.

According to Assembly officials, Gordon's replacement must be chosen by election. Candidates will most likely face off Nov. 8, the date that Schwarzenegger has picked for a statewide special election.

Under timelines set forth in state code, an election to replace Gordon could not be consolidated with the Nov. 8 statewide special election that Schwarzenegger has already called. But the Legislature could waive those timelines so the two elections could be merged, Assembly officials said.

Before Gordon's death, two Republicans had filed papers to challenge him in 2006: former Redondo Beach Mayor Greg Hill and Torrance Councilman Paul Nowatka.

Hill, who lost to Gordon in November, expressed sympathy for the assemblyman's family.

"Mike Gordon loved the people he served," Hill said, " and as much as we mourn his loss, we should celebrate his passion and devotion to public service."

Some political analysts say Democrats are prepared to back Lieu as a replacement for Gordon.

Lieu said Saturday, however, that he was mourning for Gordon and the assemblyman's family and that he would make his intentions known sometime in the future.

Gordon is survived by his wife, Denise, and children Ryan, 20; Erika, 16; Amanda, 14; and Gordy, 12.

Funeral plans are pending. Gordon's legislative director, Janelle Beland, said they would most likely occur the week of July 3.

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