City Council District 10 has a special place in the history of African American politics in Los Angeles. Tom Bradley began his political career there as the district's councilman before he became the first black mayor of a predominantly white major U.S. city.
Today, black voters still dominate politics in the district. But the two prominent black politicians now vying for the district's council seat, incumbent Nate Holden and challenger J. Stanley Sanders, are also courting support in a part of the district that has few of its residents and even fewer registered voters: Koreatown.
Korean Americans in the district, roughly bounded by Wilshire Boulevard, Lafayette Park, Robertson Boulevard and Rodeo Road, have little strength in numbers, making up only 8% of the district's 218,000 residents, according to the 1990 census.
But Korean Americans have donated enough money to bring the candidates to their doorsteps.
Holden has had five fund-raisers in Koreatown since August, with five or six more planned before the April 11 primary election, he said.
Sanders, who got more votes in the 10th District than Holden when both ran for mayor in 1993, has set up a Koreatown campaign office and held a fund-raiser there in February.
Koreatown residents "don't have voting power," said Charles Kim, a former Holden staff member who is the executive director of the Korean American Coalition, a Koreatown advocacy group. He notes that Korean Americans are hardly able to turn the outcome of an election, estimating that fewer than 1,000 Korean Americans are registered to vote in the district--about 1% of the total registration.
But, Kim added, "there's fund-raising power" in the community.
If anyone is aware of the power of Korean American contributions, it is Holden. A review of campaign contribution records found that Korean American individuals and businesses made 34% of the 1,309 contributions received by Holden from 1991 to 1994. In dollars, Korean American contributions totaled $185,750, or 25 1/2% of the $729,654 Holden raised during that period.
Many of Holden's Koreatown contributors own businesses. Indeed, much of the community's influence comes from its part in boosting the local economy. Even during the worst days of the Southern California recession, stores, hotels, restaurants and corporate offices were opening in Koreatown.
Contributors to Holden reflect the diversity of Koreatown businesses. They include hotels, construction companies and hostess bars. Holden also received a $500 donation from Jaykim Engineers Inc., the firm headed by Rep. Jay C. Kim (R-Diamond Bar), who is under federal investigation for allegedly funneling money from his business to his 1992 congressional campaign.
Holden's desire to keep the cash flowing from Korean Americans, and Sanders' attempts to divert some of that money, has stepped up the candidates' mudslinging.
Sanders has attacked Holden for speaking out against Assembly Bill 1974, which would have made it easier for liquor store owners, many of whom are Korean Americans, to reopen businesses that were destroyed during the 1992 riots. The bill would have lifted costly requirements--imposed by Los Angeles after the riots in response to longstanding complaints about the number of liquor outlets in the central city--that stores reopen with shorter hours and security guards.
Sanders said Holden's position was disgraceful because he took the stand "after raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Korean community."
Holden defended his opposition to the bill as a move to keep the state from imposing a law on a matter that he said should be handled at the city level.
Sanders' effort to make headway on Holden's turf has not steered many contributions from Korean Americans his way. Almost none of the $39,116 Sanders reported raising in his February campaign finance report came from Korean Americans.
Sanders' most successful effort was a Feb. 23 fund-raiser at the Garden Suites Hotel in Koreatown that brought in $7,100, said William Kil, a lawyer who is coordinating Sanders' Koreatown campaign efforts.
Holden remains confident that Korean Americans' cash will continue to flow to him. He cited the three Korean Americans on his staff and his three trips to Korea as evidence of his commitment to Koreatown.