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Split Ticket 

First mayoral election highlights change in Pasadena

Wednesday, Mar 3 1999
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Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter

Over the past 20 years Pasadena has evolved from a blue-blood Republican stronghold into a multiethnic Democratic quilt. But the Southland’s "second city" could yet emerge with a Republican as its first elected mayor, since the liberal coalition of Anglo environmentalists and minority voters is sharply divided this season.

The GOP hopeful in next Tuesday’s primary is Ann-Marie Villicana, a 32-year-old attorney and realtor who has served on the City Council for four years. Daughter of a wealthy surgeon whose family trust owns numerous real estate parcels around town, Villicana enjoys the backing of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce as well as party stalwarts.

Her support in the city’s fast-growing Latino population is less certain. Villicana backed Proposition 227 against bilingual instruction, and told reporters she is "uncomfortable" calling herself a Latina, since she is "a true mix" with a Dutch-Irish mother as well as a Spanish-Mexican father. At a sparsely attended voter forum for Spanish-speakers on February 26 she was the only candidate who didn’t lean on a translator, but one of the event’s organizers rated her Spanish "about a 5 — she could make herself understood."

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Carrying the official blessing of the Democratic Party and boasting the backing of labor is Chris Holden, 38, son of L.A. Councilman Nate Holden, with 10 years’ tenure on the Pasadena council. Holden was elevated to the rotating mayoral post by his council colleagues in 1997.

An industrial and commercial real estate broker and an African-American who represents a less affluent district across the 210 freeway from the business core and civic center, Holden spearheaded the charter changes that added the mayor as a separate post elected by the whole city. While this change was approved by two of three voters in a 1998 referendum, there was much less enthusiasm for making changes in the mayor’s powers or remuneration. Approval of a commission to review mayoral and council compensation squeaked past the electorate with less than 51 percent approval.

 

Apprehension that Holden wanted to initiate a "strong mayor" system was one factor that brought another Democratic contender into the fray. Bill Bogaard, a corporate attorney and vice president at First Interstate Bank who served on the City Council from 1978 to 1986, says he was drafted by community leaders who feared that Holden would weaken the "citizen-legislator" tradition that left day-to-day management authority in the hands of the city manager. Bogaard, a lifelong Democrat who says he’s never been involved in partisan politics, bills himself as the "Neighborhood Candidate" and has sought support from the city’s many neighborhood associations. He points proudly to his endorsement by eight former mayors — dating back to 1970 — and to his 30-year residency in western Pasadena. The 60-year-old Bogaard represents a different generation than his opponents, one that can lay legitimate claim to preserving Pasadena tradition — architectural and governmental — but one sometimes dismissed by minority activists (and some younger Anglos) as "the Old Guard."

The recruitment of Bogaard by old-line leaders after Holden had announced stirs some resentment among African-Americans who wonder if the stated concern over a "strong mayor" masks a reluctance to pass power to a minority. Ralph Mc-Knight, a veteran Democratic activist, takes issue with the part-time-legislator argument: "We actually lost money hosting the soccer championships — the world’s largest sporting event — and on the Super Bowl we only made $30,000. That’s why we need professional political people; we’re not a sleepy town anymore that rich people can run in their spare time." More pointedly, in the Journal News, a paper addressing the black communities of the San Gabriel Valley, an editorial column titled "The Great White Hope" wondered whether Bogaard’s cost-cutting goals at City Hall would mean lost jobs for minorities. "Bogaard talks about going back to a more civil time," the columnist continued. "When I hear white folks talking about going back in time, I see nothing good in it for us."

The third council member in contention (and a third progressive) is attorney Bill Paparian, completing his third council term. An Armenian-American who says his people’s history of persecution makes him sensitive to minority rights, Paparian has not shrunk from cutting-edge controversy, ardently opposing the state’s affirmative-action ban and supporting bilingual education, and even organizing a reception for recently released Panther prisoner Geronimo Pratt in the sacrosanct venue of the Rose Bowl. Paparian came under heavy local fire for a 1996 trip to Cuba, from which he returned calling for an end to the U.S. trade embargo. But the maverick councilman doesn’t toe the orthodox liberal line, opposing gun control (he cites the Second Amendment). Among his foes is the conservative Pasadena Star-News, which he sued unsuccessfully for invasion of privacy in its coverage of his bankruptcy proceedings; the paper soon called (also unsuccessfully) for Paparian’s resignation. While lacking the financial base of the other three candidates, he says he expects to raise the $30,000 needed for a citywide voter mailing.

Holden leads in the fund-raising contest, though a large part of his $158,000 war chest comes from outside city limits, particularly from L.A. Chris Holden’s father may have opened some doors for his son’s seed money, and numerous labor-union PACs have kicked in. Villicana maintains that "Chris is running for mayor in the wrong city," but heaves this stone from a house with much glass, drawing from L.A.-based developers herself, as well as Sacramento Republicans, in amassing her $145,000 bankroll. Bogaard, with the backing of Pasadena’s establishment and his well-to-do neighbors, is less reliant on outsiders, and has gathered $114,000 while setting a $1,000 contribution limit.

An incalculable undercurrent in the race is the upcoming felony trial of Holden’s wife, Michelle, for alleged sexual contacts with the family’s underage baby sitter. Though some thought this would impair Holden’s chances, the mayor’s stoic and dignified statement standing by the mother of his four children could give him the sympathy boost that Hillary Clinton enjoyed during the Monica ordeal.

A half-dozen other candidates, with minimal funding and invisible campaigns, round out the election roster, and few observers expect any of the big four contenders to garner the 50 percent needed to avoid an April runoff.

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