Back on the court: Assemblyman Richard Katz...

This column was reported by Times staff writers Mark Gladstone in Sacramento and John Schwada in Los Angeles

Back on the court: Assemblyman Richard Katz managed a faint smile and conceded there might just be a silver lining to his recent stinging defeat in the Los Angeles mayor's race.

"The good news," the Sylmar Democrat joked, "is that I'm able to get back into playing basketball at 6:30 in the morning" in pickup games at a capital YMCA. "The bad news is I'm more out of shape than when I left" to run for mayor, the 42-year-old lawmaker added.

Katz, who finished fourth in April's primary, behind lawyer-businessman Richard Riordan and Los Angeles City Councilmen Michael Woo and Joel Wachs, is trying to adjust to life back in Sacramento, where he is a trusted adviser to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).

With the dream of being mayor shattered, Katz shunned questions about his next move. Regarding his political future, Katz maintained: "I haven't focused on it." But he acknowledged that he has discussed a variety of options for next year with friends, including running for reelection to the Assembly; seeking the Senate seat now held by Democrat David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys), who is barred from running again by term limits; campaigning for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, or contesting a statewide office, such as treasurer.

Before he launches another campaign, Katz is thinking about what went wrong this year. Among the reasons he cites for his campaign's failure to take off are Wachs' entry into the race, splitting votes among Katz's San Fernando Valley base; voters focused on the Rodney G. King civil rights trial rather than the mayoral contest, and what he says was poor media coverage.

Katz shrugged off a question about whether James Carville, President Clinton's political strategist, played the kind of role in the Katz campaign that had been anticipated. Katz would only say that Carville was involved in the campaign but that "a lot of things didn't turn out the way we thought, including the number of votes we got."

Even after grueling days on the stump, Katz became accustomed to being at home every night with his wife, Gini Barrett, a public affairs executive. When the legislative session began in January, Katz would shuttle to Sacramento for certain meetings, particularly the Assembly Transportation Committee, which he chairs, and fly back home the same day. Now that he's off the campaign trail, Katz's schedule is again dictated by the legislative calendar, which means that he flies to Sacramento Sunday nights and typically doesn't come south until Thursday.

Sitting in his Capitol office, Katz is trying to get back up to speed--running plays both in the Legislature and on the court.

"I don't like losing. That was painful. But life goes on." And so does basketball.

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