By Hillel Aron
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Murray’s own phrasings have a blunt but engaging self-confidence, a take-me-or-leave-me finality as he rattles off statistics, names and places, whether discussing his urban-parks program (he helped create the 1,100-acre Baldwin Hills Conservancy) or defending the compromises that gutted his racial-profiling bill. You get the feeling he knows only one direction, and it isn‘t sideways.
Then there is Nate Holden, who first ran for the 32nd seat in 1978, losing to Dixon. Although he is a front-runner in the sense that he isn’t an Ezola Foster, few outside his organization give him a chance of winning. His importance has instead become that of a spoiler. But for whom? Murray says that because of overlapping constituencies, he and Watson will pretty much split the difference over the votes lost to Holden. Watson, though, believes Holden will subtract from Murray‘s male following.
There was a time when Holden cut an impressive, almost dashing political figure, especially during the 1989 mayoral race, when, after Zev Yaroslavsky lost his nerve to run, Holden alone rose to challenge the scandal-enfeebled Bradley machine. (The Far East National Bank fiasco had just erupted, exposing the mayor’s receipt of consultant‘s fees from a bank that was benefiting from city patronage.) Holden came close to forcing Bradley into a humiliating runoff, but this would be the pinnacle of his career. Before long there were the sexual-harassment charges (which he beat), allegations of improper campaign contributions, and shenanigans with South Korean strippers during a business visit to that country.
The line between the sublime and the ridiculous in Los Angeles politics may at best be a theoretical one, but Holden definitely crossed it long ago, by (among other things) defending the indefensible Daryl Gates and calling liberal -- and Jewish -- City Councilman Mike Feuer a ”Klansman.“ Today, he has become the clownish ”Nate O’Holden“ who leads the council‘s annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations -- a colorful, self-made legend whose political achievements are far behind him.
Still, Holden‘s endorsers include Republican Mayor Richard Riordan, along with several city councilmen, past and present, and a smattering of Sacramento pols, local clergymen and Koreatown businessmen. No wonder that, when asked to make a prediction about April 10, Sonenshein demurred. ”I’m not crazy,“ he said. ”What‘s the point of being a pundit when you can’t even figure out who‘s going to endorse who?“
Watson has racked up some impressive symbolic endorsements from civil rights icons Rosa Parks and Dorothy Height, as well as from county Supervisor Gloria Molina and members of Congress, including Sanchez, L.A.’s Juanita Millender-McDonald and New York‘s Charles Rangel. From a practical standpoint, though, Watson’s most important supporter has been EMILY‘s List, the liberal-feminist PAC that promotes woman candidates across the country.
Her chief opponent, however, has put together what might be called Murray’s List -- an awesome facsimile, at least, of the classic Democratic coalition comprising labor, ethnic activists and the official party apparat, personified locally by a host of clergymen and community organizers, by the County Federation of Labor, and by congressional leaders Howard Berman, Henry Waxman and Maxine Waters. (Murray is the son of former Assemblyman Willard Murray, a longtime ally of the fabled Waxman-Berman machine.) As if these weren‘t enough, he also has the support of Julian Dixon’s widow, Bettye. Watson is clearly irritated when she claims that these last four people never returned her phone calls when she first sounded them out about the election.
Watson dismisses Murray‘s blue-chip sponsors as the inevitable political markers collected by a seated senator for his quid pro quo support of special-interests groups, including labor. (Murray pushed through a bill ensuring the viability of MTA contracts in the case of Valley secession.) When asked why the state party organization has officially endorsed Murray, Watson claims her opponent paid for the memberships of his followers in the local Democratic Party clubs that made their recommendations to the state organization. ”He used rather strong-armed ways that caught the attention of those groups,“ she says. (Murray’s campaign office declined comment on Watson‘s charges.) In fact, Watson claims that, should she lose, it will be because of vote manipulation. ”You saw what happened November 7,“ she says, referring to G.W. Bush’s questionable victory in Florida. ”I suspect some of that will happen here. I‘ve been the victim of that before, and these people who are running the campaigns are not [above using] dirty tricks.“
In a campaign with little media coverage and no substantial differences of ideology, endorsements become the tea leaves one studies for fund-raising prowess -- Murray claims to lead the pack by having raised nearly $400,000, although both he and Watson now say they have about $170,000 in cash reserves -- and signs of issues. And it is in some of his supporters’ more explicit references to Murray‘s youth that one finds the race’s single obvious issue: Watson‘s and Holden’s ages. At 41, his supporters say, Murray would be in an ideal position to rack up seniority in the safely Democratic 32nd, a prerequisite for the survival of black political clout in L.A. Watson is 67, Holden 71.