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Web Site Prompts Claims of Racism in Assembly Contest

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

In one of the nastier political races this season, a Republican candidate for the Assembly has come under fire by Democrats and Asian American leaders for operating a campaign Web site they say is racist.

Republican and former state Assemblyman Gerald Felando is vying for the 53rd Assembly District seat in the South Bay, currently held by Democrat George Nakano. A Felando campaign Web site features an image of Nakano dressed in a traditional Japanese robe and holding a sword over his head.

The site describes Nakano, who has a fifth-degree black belt in the Japanese sport of kendo, as a samurai warrior “who has accepted illegal campaign contributions from federally convicted money launderers and Chinese arms dealers.”

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A news release on the site attempts to link Nakano to the controversy surrounding Firestone tires, which the release notes has a Japanese parent company. The release also features quotes from a book called “Agents of Influence: How Japan Manipulates America’s Political and Economic System.”

Nakano described the Web site as “consistently outrageous.” Based on the words of support Nakano says he has received from Republican members of the Assembly, he believes Felando’s behavior has backfired.

“I believe he went over the edge this time,” Nakano said. “I’ve been in the Assembly for two years now and nobody behaves like that.”

Felando, who served in the Assembly from 1978 to 1992, said neither he nor his Web site is racist. Felando said the photo of Nakano in kendo garb was originally circulated by Nakano’s own campaign--an assertion that a Nakano spokeswoman denied--and that he merely reprinted the image.

“A samurai warrior is a very honorable, ethical person,” said Felando during a break from walking precincts Monday. “I’m just trying to help him out a little. He has so much bad luggage.”

Nakano’s campaign says Felando is trying to rehash an issue that surfaced in a previous election regarding roughly $8,500 in campaign contributions that Nakano received in an unsuccessful 1994 run for the state Senate.

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Some of Nakano’s contributors later surfaced as key figures in the national Democratic fund-raising scandals and pleaded guilty to money laundering charges. None of the contributions that Nakano received were deemed illegal, Nakano’s campaign says.

Felando said he believes Nakano should have returned the money.

Stuart DeVeaux, a spokesman for the California State Republican Party, said he does not believe Felando’s site will harm his party’s efforts to reach out to ethnic communities. “Our party is more than one person,” DeVeaux said. “It’s larger than one individual.”

Assembly Republican Leader Scott Baugh of Huntington Beach could not be reached for comment Monday. Campaign contribution reports show that accounts controlled by Baugh have provided about $7,000 to Felando’s campaign.

Bob Mulholland, an advisor to the California State Democratic Party, had plenty to say about Felando’s Web site Monday. “Felando is a cyberspace, racist terrorist that has sunk to the level of a skunk,” Mulholland said. Stewart Kwoh, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, said he believes voters will have more sense than to accept the innuendo contained in the Web site. Kwoh described the site as an attempt by Felando to link Nakano to everything that Asians have ever been accused of doing wrong.

“It draws on all the false stereotypes and applies them to George because he’s in this Asian kendo uniform,” Kwoh said.

John Tateishi, national executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, said he plans to write Felando a letter. Nakano founded the Torrance chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League in 1983.

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“To use that photograph of George to try to imply that there’s something very foreign about him because he practices martial arts, to me, is so offensive and racist,” Tateishi said. “I don’t think there’s any excuse for this kind of depiction of someone of Japanese ancestry as being someone of questionable character.”

Dick Rosengarten, who edits the California political newsletter CalPEEK, said he expects Nakano to win the seat.

“Felando doesn’t have any money and the Republicans don’t have any money to give him,” said Rosengarten, who was not familiar with Felando’s Web site.

According to campaign finance reports made available Friday, Nakano has $53,628 on hand, compared to Felando’s $1,999.

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Controversial Web Site

A Web site operated by the campaign committee for Republican Gerald Felando has sparked outrage among Asian American leaders and Democrats. Felando is vying for the 53rd Assembly District seat in the South Bay currently held by Democrat George Nakano. The Web site features Nakano dressed in a traditional Japanese robe, holding a sword over his head. The Web site describes Nakano, who is a fifth-degree black belt in the Japanese sport of kendo, as a samurai warrior.

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