Katz Picking Up Duties From Brown : Assembly: With former Speaker running for mayor of San Francisco, he is turning over more responsibility to the Sylmar legislator.


With his energy increasingly focused on campaigning for mayor of San Francisco, Democratic Assembly Leader Willie Brown is turning more of his day-to-day duties over to veteran Assemblyman Richard Katz of Sylmar.

In fact, Brown said Tuesday that if he is elected mayor he will recommend his longtime lieutenant Katz as the Democrats’ “caretaker” leader until after the 1996 elections.

Brown, the former Assembly Speaker, has already turned to Katz to organize the Democrats’ 1996 drive to recapture control of the Assembly, which was lost last year when Republicans won a 41-39 majority. Last week, for example, the Sylmar legislator put together a dinner on Brown’s behalf with lobbyists to discuss campaign strategy.


“I have obviously given Katz lots of assignments because he’s the most knowledgeable and comprehensive and commands more respect and attention from the public,” Brown said in a brief interview off the Assembly floor.

Brown made his comments as Democrats are grappling with their party’s direction in the closely divided Assembly. At issue is how best to phase in a new leadership team--whether to choose a veteran or a newcomer to battle the resurgent Republicans.

Brown contends that his party should stick with an experienced insider like Katz, the veteran chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee who was first elected to the Legislature in 1980. Katz is barred by term limits from running next year for reelection to the Assembly.

Some legislators, however, say Democrats should turn to a fresh face such as Fresno Assemblyman Cruz Bustamante, who was elected in a 1993 special election. Bustamante, a former legislative aide, is not a lame duck and has strong backing of some Latino legislators. He is also a rarity: one of the few Latinos ever elected to the Legislature from the San Joaquin Valley.

Other Democrats also are pressing their colleagues to line up behind a strong liberal to provide a sharp contrast to the new Republican leader, staunch conservative Curt Pringle of Garden Grove.

Although he supports Katz, Assemblyman Curtis Tucker (D-Inglewood) said he doubts the transition will be a simple matter of Brown anointing Katz as his successor. Tucker said he believes there will be several legislators competing for the job of Democratic leader once Brown relinquishes power.


Meanwhile, the Assembly continues to be presided over by Republican Doris Allen of Cypress, whose election as Speaker was orchestrated by Brown as a way to give Democrats a grip on limited power in the fractious Assembly. Brown served as Speaker for 14 1/2 years.

Brown hopes that after the 1996 election, Democrats will recapture the majority and will be meeting to pick a new Speaker. Brown said all Democrats elected next year should select the new leader “so as not to give some freshman or sophomore today a leg up.”

Not all Democrats are happy with the way Brown has handled the situation. Assemblywoman Diane Martinez (D-Monterey Park) said she has been “surprised and dismayed at the way he has handled” his succession by pushing Katz to center stage. Citing last week’s dinner, she said it appears that Brown is turning the reins of power over to Katz.

Martinez said the entire Democratic caucus ought to get together and pick a new leader “like they do when they pick the new Pope, when [they] . . . come up with an answer [they] send up some white smoke.”

Katz, who was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, acknowledged that when the Democratic leader’s position becomes vacant, he would like his colleagues to consider him for the job.

Anticipating the transition, Katz said, he is assuming more of Brown’s duties.

“We are gearing up for 1996. Willie is otherwise occupied and he wants to return a Democratic majority and he’s asked me to do things for him,” Katz said. Among those new duties are raising money, organizing the campaign and identifying likely Democratic Assembly candidates.


But Katz said that rookie and second-term Democratic legislators need to be involved in the leadership positions because “it’s their house.”

Times staff writer Max Vanzi contributed to this story