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Allow Healing to Begin

As promised, former Assemblyman Richard Katz last week requested a vote recount in the primary election he lost to City Councilman Richard Alarcon. Hoping to find the 30 votes that would give him the Democratic nomination for the 20th District state Senate seat, Katz also filed a lawsuit challenging the results of the June 2 election.

Although a costly recount is unlikely to change the outcome, Katz has every right to his challenge. But he must proceed carefully to prevent an already ugly contest from sinking even deeper into the muck and dividing the East San Fernando Valley even further. As with every other aspect of this race, the recount holds explosive potential.

Although it stewed beneath the surface until the final days of the campaign, ethnicity played a big part in the race. Support for Katz was strongest in the mostly white southern part of the district and Alarcon polled strongest in the mostly Latino north. The two share virtually identical views on key issues. Only after an offensive anti-Katz mailer signed by state Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) appeared in mailboxes did the issue of race erupt.

A campaign advisor admitted drafting the letter and--after considerable prodding from many sources--Alarcon apologized. Katz, unfortunately, refused to accept the apology. Pity, because the lingering stink over the mailer taints what was otherwise a strong fight between two honorable politicians. Now both men must play out their fight in an arena heavy with unnecessary racial tension.

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For instance, Alarcon warned Katz not to use his lawsuit to probe the citizenship status of voters. The implication: To do so would be racist. Indeed, Katz must not question every ballot with a Hispanic surname, but he also cannot be expected to spend $90,000 on a recount without challenging at least a few.

In the end, perhaps the best Katz--and the voters of the 20th state Senate District--can hope for is that the recount wraps up quickly and quietly. The distrust inspired over the past two months needs many more to heal. Until then, the fewer shrill accusations, the better.


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