Last week, Republican Robert F. Thoreson thought he was on the verge of making political history by nailing down endorsements from many black ministers in Pacoima--a community that can usually be counted on to vote heavily Democratic.
Thoreson, who is making his second try at unseating Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), had spent months stumping for votes at the approximately 30 black churches in Pacoima and said he had collected written statements of endorsement from ministers at 17 of them.
But on Saturday, the Minister Fellowship of San Fernando and Vicinity, which represents many black churches in Pacoima, endorsed Katz in the 39th District race. The Rev. John Lett, the fellowship's president, said the voice votes among the 16 or 17 members of the group in attendance registered "no negative votes, all positive votes" for Katz.
Katz said the ministers' vote proved that Thoreson's "bold strike into Pacoima doesn't exist."
"I think he felt if he could convince people that he had this groundswell of support in Pacoima, they would tell other people, and this myth would continue," said Katz, who had maintained all along that Thoreson had exaggerated his support in Pacoima.
Thoreson Downplays Result
But Thoreson, discounting the importance of the group's endorsement, said the vote was not indicative of his strength in Pacoima because his supporters either were not at the meeting or arrived too late to vote.
"I don't count that as a test. I think the test is on election day," said Thoreson, 42, an auto-theft detective with the Los Angeles Police Department.
When Thoreson lost the race for the same seat two years ago, Katz beat him 90% to 10% in Pacoima but won the race districtwide by getting 54% of the vote to Thoreson's 46%. The GOP challenger's strategists believed they could improve his chances this year by doing a better job of vote-getting in Pacoima. Thoreson could win, they figured, if he gets 30% of the Pacoima vote and narrowly beats Katz in the more conservative areas of the district, such as Northridge.
Katz, however, was not about to let Thoreson's activities go unchallenged.
In the days leading up to the vote, Katz said he had talked with a few ministers about such issues as increased utility taxes and South Africa's apartheid government, issues that Katz said Thoreson had misrepresented.
Katz also had Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) come to the district to campaign for him, although he said the Speaker's appearance had been arranged months before and not in response to Thoreson's efforts.
At least some of Thoreson's supporters apparently changed their minds.
For example, Bishop Milford Harvey of New Testament No. 1 Church last week told The Times he was definitely supporting Thoreson, but on Monday he said he was "staying neutral for now" and is awaiting "additional information" to see whether Thoreson "misled" him about the utilities tax.
Harvey and some other black ministers said they were concerned about increases in the utility users' tax, which Thoreson has blamed on Katz. However, the authority to raise such a tax lies with local governments, such as the Los Angeles City Council, and not the Legislature, Katz pointed out.
Appealing to church leaders is a traditional method of campaigning in black communities, where churches often welcome candidates to stump from their pulpits.
But the ministers' group is not the only one that has backed Katz, who has collected endorsements from labor, education, law enforcement, Latino and environmental groups.
Katz's endorsements include the Sierra Club, the National Rifle Assn., the California Teachers Assn., the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the Mexican-American Political Assn., the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs, the California Assn. of Highway Patrolmen, the Assn. for Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriffs, the California Labor Federation, the California Nurses Assn. and all the members of the San Fernando City Council, Republicans as well as Democrats.
Thoreson said he has one organizational endorsement, from the Los Angeles Law Enforcement Assn., a group of Latino officers.
But Thoreson downplayed the significance of group endorsements. "I've got lots of individual endorsements--pages and pages and pages of them," he said.