Julian Nava to Run for Mayor : Politics: Former ambassador to Mexico said he will focus on rebuilding L.A. He called himself a ‘non-professional politician’ with no interest in higher office.


Julian Nava, a former ambassador to Mexico and the first Latino to serve on the Los Angeles Board of Education, announced Friday that he intends to run for mayor on a platform that will focus on fighting crime and rebuilding the city’s job base.

The 65-year-old Nava, who was appointed ambassador to Mexico in 1979 by former President Jimmy Carter, will become the first Latino to enter the mayoral race. Nava, who is a professor of history at Cal State Northridge, said he plans to make a formal announcement on the City Hall steps Tuesday.

A Democrat who has been associated with liberal and conservative causes--as an advocate of school busing in the 1970s and a champion of controversial former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates--Nava has been involved in civic life for a quarter of a century.


“I believe the public will respond very well to a non-professional politician as mayor,” Nava said, emphasizing that he has no political ambitions beyond the mayor’s office.

“It will help for me to embody leadership that does not have any interest in using the position of mayor as a steppingstone. I consider this (the mayor’s job) as a short, valuable civic assignment, free from obligations to any personal, political machines or to any particular interest group and free from any special loyalty even to my own ethnic group. . . . I do not intend to be a professional Hispanic.”

By “a short . . . assignment,” however, Nava said he was not committing himself to serve only one term.

Nava said his first goal as mayor would be to “restore the image of Los Angeles worldwide after the disgrace we have suffered from the South-Central riots. Otherwise, we cannot expect tourists or investment.”

If elected, Nava said, one of his first priorities would be to “take bold new efforts to reduce violence on the streets, even if it means putting police or volunteer police aides at virtually every street corner” in violence-prone parts of town.

Nava spoke of his “very good relationship “ with Gates. And he said he would seek the advice of line officers as well as the department’s top officials in trying to develop a more effective public safety strategy.


Nava said that “a subcommittee of the brain trust working on my candidacy” is already trying to develop productive relationships with Latino gang leaders.

“With better communication, respect and understanding, it is possible to make this youthful gang leadership serve their own more enlightened interests,” he said.

Addressing the city’s economic needs, Nava said he would convene “all vested interests” to assist in the development of an industrial policy that would emphasize the retention and expansion of jobs, and that would place a priority on the purchase of locally produced goods and services.

If the pending trade agreement with Mexico is approved, Nava said, he would establish close relations with the government of Mexico to begin identifying new markets for Los Angeles exports.

In this regard, he said, his ambassadorial experience gives him an advantage over anyone else running for mayor.

“To increase jobs as well as bring new investments, Los Angeles needs a foreign policy,” Nava said. “I feel completely at ease talking to presidents, prime ministers and kings.”

Born and raised in Boyle Heights, Nava is the son of immigrant parents. He served in the Navy as a combat air crewman in World War II before graduating from Pomona College and earning a doctorate in history from Harvard University.

In 1967, when Latino political activism was taking shape, Nava won a citywide election for a seat on the Los Angeles Board of Education. His victory was regarded as a stunning upset--drawing strong support from Anglo middle-class precincts.

During his 12 years on the board, he became a liberal target of antibusing forces because of his vote for mandatory busing of students to desegregate the schools.

In 1970, he ran unsuccessfully for state superintendent of public education. He served as ambassador to Mexico from 1979 until 1981.

Nava was a leader in the campaign against Proposition F, the police reform measure overwhelmingly approved by voters last June. The ballot measure, recommended by the Christopher Commission that investigated the Los Angeles Police Department in the wake of the police beating of Rodney G. King, gave City Hall officials greater authority to hire and fire police chiefs. Nava contended that the measure would politicize the Police Department.

Last year, Nava also took part in an ill-fated recall drive against Mayor Tom Bradley that was prompted by Bradley’s efforts to remove Gates.

Nava was most recently involved in the unsuccessful effort to promote a Latino candidate for interim superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

He also has been part of a brash new alliance of Mexican-American activists, that calls itself NEWS for America. It has sought to pressure Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in Watts to hire more Latinos and protested the fact that Latinos were passed over in the selection of a new Los Angeles police chief.