Candidates Show Little Unity on Unifying L.A. : Campaign: Battling crime and priming economy are cited as cure-alls. Critics say generalities are not enough.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If the city of Los Angeles is a big family of neighborhoods, as one candidate for mayor contends, then it is a deeply troubled, dysfunctional family--torn apart by divorce, filled with hostility, ravaged by greed and jealousy.

Bringing the city together after the worst urban riots this century is a stated goal of all the contenders for the top spot in City Hall. But uniting ethnic communities segregated by geography and racked by distrust is a monumental task--perhaps the most crucial, yet nebulous, job of the next mayor.

The top contenders have differing approaches to easing the city's racial strife. One says he would appeal to the best in people by giving them more access to government. A second would appoint three deputy mayors--one African-American, one Latino, one Asian-American.

Another says all the focus on differences--the forming of special ethnic campaign committees, for instance--is part of the very problem the city is facing.

"We're tearing this city apart by classifying people with respect to their color, their race, their religion or whatever it is," Councilman Ernani Bernardi said. "This is one nation under God and it's also one city under God and we've got to stop the people who are trying to break it up for their own political gain."

Priming the city's economy and cracking down on crime are the two refrains heard most often on the campaign trail, cure-alls that the candidates say would take care of racial tension along the way. But those who have researched the city's explosive inter-ethnic clashes and those working in the trenches to defuse them are dissatisfied with such sweeping pronouncements.

"No one has got it," said Eric Shockman, a USC political scientist who once worked for candidate Michael Woo. "There's a general perception that if you talk about economic development then somehow racial tensions will be eased."

Shockman and others argue that there are immediate actions the next mayor can take, even in a city so complex that 90 languages are spoken in the schools, where brand-new immigrants mix with fifth-generation Angelenos, where the well-off and the down-and-out say times are tough.

Economics are widely seen as an essential component to healing the city. But often, those observing the campaign say, candidates have not gone far enough. The city must bring equity to its neighborhoods by battling the mentality that each City Council member's job is to protect his or her turf--a point Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) has made repeatedly.

In pushing for more small business ownership--a popular notion among many candidates--Mayor Tom Bradley's successor must remember that even during the city's boom years, many neighborhoods were left behind, social scientists and others say. Several campaigns are floating plans for minority small business loans and inner-city development funds, although some on the sidelines question whether there will be adequate follow-through after the election.

"It's easy to say the right thing," said Mike Hernandez, a councilman who is not running for mayor. Hernandez, who has made equity for the city's poorest neighborhoods his crusade on the council, added: "It's harder to push for it day after day."

The mayoral candidates are a diverse lot. Of 11 leading contenders, six are white: Katz, Bernardi, Tom Houston, Richard Riordan, Joel Wachs and Nick Patsaouras. There are two major African-American candidates, Nate Holden and Stan Sanders, and two politically prominent Latinos, Linda Griego and Julian Nava. The early front-runner, Woo, is Chinese-American.

Even though some pundits have criticized the candidates for failing to tackle race relations head-on in their campaigns, they say the ethnic diversity of the field has at least opened the door to such discussions.

The dozens of candidate forums that have been staged by neighborhood groups in recent weeks highlight the fractured state of the city--which is 40% Latino, 37% Anglo, 13% African-American and 9% Asian-American, with other groups making up the remaining 1%.

One day the candidates were asked before an African-American audience whether there ought to be peace if there is no justice. Later, they appeared before Korean-Americans who were seeking redress for damages suffered during the riots. Most often, the audiences have been made up of whites, many of whom say they are afraid of an inner-city assault on their homes.

Diversity in government appointments has become one way candidates have tried to reach out. Houston said his plan to hire deputy mayors from three ethnic groups has two benefits: It would provide a symbolic sense of inclusion while giving the mayor greater access to the moods and needs of diverse communities.

Nava, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, went further in an appearance before a coalition of Korean-American groups this month. One of his deputy mayors would be a Korean-American, he said, and every city commission would have a Korean-American representative.

Other candidates call that pandering and accuse Houston, Nava and Woo--who said he would appoint a gay or lesbian to the Police Commission--of being willing to say anything to get a vote.

"I don't believe in quotas," said Patsaouras, an engineer and transportation official who advocates greater participation by minorities in city contracts. "I'm not going to pander to any group. I have to appoint the best and the brightest. At the same time, I know there are bright minorities out there."

As the April 20 primary nears, some candidates have been working vigorously to set up ethnic campaign organizations. A group of Latino community leaders has rallied behind lawyer-businessman Riordan. A Korean-American coalition is backing Katz. And Councilman Woo has Latinos Unidos por Woo. Although such attempts at outreach are important, some say that commission appointments ought to go further than the prominent attorneys, businessmen and others who are typically recruited.

Nava, for one, has called for economic diversity in city commission appointments--getting poor people to sit beside the well-to-do to hash out Los Angeles' problems.

Candidates also need to look at the diversity within ethnic groups, said Lou Negrete, co-chairman of the United Neighborhood Organization in East Los Angeles. The city's Spanish-speaking population includes longtime Mexican-American residents and recently arrived Central-Americans, he said.

Councilman Wachs said he will include groups now left out of government by creating more than 100 neighborhood councils. "Despite our rainbow population, we are never going to have harmony unless people can see and share what they have in common, and feel a part of the decision-making process," Wachs said.

Among other candidates there is talk of mass community meetings to get at tensions before they explode, an urban peace corps to send idealistic youths across the city's ethnic and economic boundaries, and a series of cultural festivals in which the mayor would take part.

Woo, who has advocated the peace corps idea, has played up ethnic diversity more than most, winning important endorsements from Latinos, African-Americans and others.

"When I started this venture, running for mayor of Los Angeles, there were people who came to me and said the city of L.A. is not ready for an Asian-American mayor," Woo said at a recent campaign appearance. "I think they're wrong. . . . I am convinced that I will put together a cross-town, multiethnic coalition."

Griego, on the other hand, does not mention in her campaign speeches that she is a Latina. "That's what I am," the restaurateur and former deputy mayor said. "I don't feel the need to bring it up. It's obvious."

Getting to know the city's neighborhoods is considered a key issue and candidates have begun to fan out through the city's 469 square miles, addressing church congregations, walking precincts and speaking at forums far from their political bases.

Sanders, a Watts native who is focusing on Bradley's South-Central and Westside base, has taken a bus tour of the San Fernando Valley and East Los Angeles. Riordan, considered the candidate of conservative whites, delivered a talk at First African Methodist Episcopal Church, which has one of the city's largest African-American congregations. Wachs has taken his campaign of neighborhood empowerment to numerous groups--although he acknowledged he has never visited a housing project and addressed his first Korean-American audience at a candidates forum this month.

Some candidates say they have been the subject of racial prejudice. As a state senator, Holden was held at gunpoint by two Los Angeles Police Department officers who mistook him for a burglar. Sanders, an attorney, was rejected for membership in an all-white tennis club in 1978. Griego says she went to segregated schools in New Mexico.

But sharing the experiences of a particular ethnic group is not enough.

"I don't think the ethnicity of the candidate is that important providing that the candidate is familiar with all parts of the city," said Alex Norman, a human relations consultant who is a professor emeritus of social welfare at UCLA. "How can you run for a position and know absolutely nothing of whole communities? Voters ought to look for people who have a history of building coalitions."

Some of those who are monitoring the candidates' public statements on racial issues have not been impressed. They see divisiveness, naivete and a surprising lack of urgency in a landmark mayoral race taking place in the shadow of the 1992 riots.

"Very few of them are tackling head-on what happened in this city 10 or 11 months ago," said Don Nakanishi, director of UCLA's Asian-American Studies Center. "Few are looking at the underlying structural causes."

Houston, a former deputy mayor, is criticized for talking tough about illegal immigrants--an impolitic move, experts say, at a time when the city is still so divided. Others question the emphasis that most candidates are putting on law enforcement, saying that they overlook underlying causes of crime. The push to break up the Los Angeles school district, an idea that several candidates have endorsed, is criticized as being part of the destructive, secessionist mind-set pervading the city.

Shockman, associate director of USC's Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies, divides the field into three categories: "the tough-talking, neo-Sam Yorty crowd" who are re-creating the former mayor's bluster; "the ostrich candidates who have buried their heads in the sand" hoping that racial conflict will go away, and those who have come closest to grappling with the divisions in the city.

Others have their own classifications, but there is a widespread feeling that the campaign in general has not focused enough on the causes of last spring's civil unrest.

Providing more equitable city services among neighborhoods and pushing development funds where they are most needed are seen as long-term answers.

But those watching the race say that whoever wins the election could also use the office as a vehicle for powerful symbolic gestures:

Beef up the city's Human Relations Commission--a tiny operation made up of an executive director, one clerical worker and one part-timer. Or convene all the city's general managers and commissioners and demand from each a plan on how they will better serve all of Los Angeles' neighborhoods.

Or call together the estimated 60 consul generals from across the world who live in Los Angeles, and inquire about the unique problems their compatriots face in Los Angeles. Or even order the entire mayoral staff to take a walk through the new Museum of Tolerance.

"I'm not sure one person can change the interactions between individuals--that has to come from the individuals themselves," said Norman, the race relations consultant. "But the mayor can lend the prestige of the position to heal rather than divide."

The L.A. Mayoral Race: Where They Stand

The major candidates for mayor of Los Angeles all say they would work to heal the city's racial divisions in the aftermath of last spring's civil unrest. But their approaches vary. Here is a look at their views . THE CANDIDATES: ERNANI BERNARDI THEIR POSITIONS: Would treat all groups equally but downplay the emphasis on race; compares Los Angeles to war-torn Sarajevo.

THE CANDIDATES: LINDA GRIEGO THEIR POSITIONS: Would appoint a diverse staff but declines to specify ethnic breakdown; emphasizes promoting small business development in inner-city neighborhoods; plays up the fact that she lives in Baldwin Hills, a predominantly minority neighborhood.

THE CANDIDATES: NATE HOLDEN THEIR POSITIONS: Would appoint a diverse staff but declines to specify ethnic breakdown; would gather various ethnic groups to work out problems and spread the word that the conflict must stop.

THE CANDIDATES: TOM HOUSTON THEIR POSITIONS: Would appoint three deputy mayors--one black, one Asian, one Latino--to focuson community concerns and illustrate that the races can cooperate; would give city contract preferences to businesses with multiethnic work forces.

THE CANDIDATES: RICHARD KATZ THEIR POSITIONS: Would appoint a diverse staff but said it is pandering to make specific promises to individual groups; would meet with news media representatives to seek restraint in reporting on upcoming verdicts in two potentially volatile criminal trials.

THE CANDIDATES: JULIAN NAVA THEIR POSITIONS: Would appoint a Korean-American deputy mayor and a Korean-American representative to all city commissions in an effort to involve a community he says has been left out of City Hall; would base appointments in part on economic diversity; would eliminate the city's Human Relations Commission, which he calls ineffectual; would grant limited voting rights to green card holders.

THE CANDIDATES: NICK PATSAOURAS THEIR POSITIONS: Would appoint a diverse staff but declines to specify ethnic breakdown; wouldemphasize awarding city contracts to minorities and women.

THE CANDIDATES: RICHARD RIORDAN THEIR POSITIONS: Would appoint a diverse staff but declines to specify ethnic breakdown; wouldemphasize cracking down on crime, a concern he says crosses racial lines.

THE CANDIDATES: STAN SANDERS THEIR POSITIONS: Would make diversity a factor in all his appointments to commissions, except the Police Commission, which he said would need to be assembled too swiftly to ensure complete diversity at first; would focus attention on high school campuses, which he said are flash points for racial tensions; would convene student leaders across the city to discuss concerns.

THE CANDIDATES: JOEL WACHS THEIR POSITIONS: Would appoint a diverse staff but refuses to specify ethnic breakdown; would form more than 100 neighborhood councils and allow non-citizen participation in the groups; to defuse tensions involving the controversial trials, would convene massive community meeting with beating victims Rodney G. King and Reginald O. Denny.

THE CANDIDATES: MICHAEL WOO THEIR POSITIONS: Would appoint a diverse staff but refuses to specify ethnic breakdown; wouldappoint a gay or lesbian to the Police Commission; would form urban peace corps to bring young volunteers into needy neighborhoods.

Researched by CECILIA RASMUSSEN

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