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BLACKS ON PACE TO MAKE VALLEY POLITICAL INROADS.

Byline: BRAD A. GREENBERG

Staff Writer

After Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke to a cadre of young Latino politicians at a fundraiser at the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center this month, a black woman approached Robert Winn and asked about African-American political might.

"We stand in good stead," said Winn, a black political consultant.

Indeed, more than half of the San Fernando Valley's 60,000 blacks are registered to vote. And they have the highest voter turnout among minorities, making them a crucial voting bloc.

But whether an African-American will ever be elected to represent the Valley -- that's a different question.

"A black couldn't get elected by sheer force of black votes," Winn said. "But a black could get elected if he had the support of the community."

Over the hill, blacks have had an ironic advantage in L.A. politics, said Tom Hogen-Esch, director of policy studies for the California State University, Northridge, Center for Southern California Studies.

"Segregation," he said.

Racial covenants that limited blacks to buying homes in specific neighborhoods essentially created African-American districts. And for the past 44 years, blacks have represented without interruption City Council districts 8, 9 and 10 -- each containing large parts of historically black L.A.

But this was never true in the Valley.

Though most real estate agents would only sell Pacoima homes to blacks moving to the suburbs after World War II, the population was never large enough to dominate an electoral district.

The closest an African-American from the Valley has come to representing the community was when LeRoy Chase missed qualifying for the 1993 general election for District 7 by 646 votes.

"I wasn't disappointed at all," said Chase, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of San Fernando Valley. "When I ran for office, I told people I couldn't lose. They didn't believe me. But if I won, I would have had a different job. ... If I didn't win, I was still a winner because of the P.R. that was generated for the Boys & Girls Club."

By that time, blacks had begun fleeing the Valley in search of more affordable lives in the Antelope Valley, the Inland Empire and out of state. The exodus accelerated citywide as the '90s wore on.

Accounting for 14 percent of L.A. residents in 1990, according to census data, the African-American population fell to 9.9 percent two years ago. Meanwhile, historically black neighborhoods became predominantly Latino. (The 2000 U.S. Census found Pacoima, once predominantly black, was 83 percent Latino.)

And yet African-American political power has sustained.

In addition to holding three council seats since 1963, blacks have traditionally filled three L.A. congressional seats, two in the state Senate, four to six in the Assembly and one on the school board. And 14 years ago, Yvonne B. Burke was elected to join the five-member county Board of Supervisors.

"People have been prophesying the decline of black power now for the last 20 years and it just hasn't happened," said Fernando J. Guerra, director of Loyola Marymount University's Center for the Study of Los Angeles. "Mostly, because reapportionment has created viable districts, black voters come out to vote and black candidates have been good crossover candidates."

In 1973, when Tom Bradley was elected L.A.'s first black mayor, it wasn't just because he got the black vote, but also the Jewish vote and the Westside liberal vote.

"And it wasn't just the vote," said Raphael J. Sonenshein, author of "Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles." "That was just the beginning of it. It was the whole notion of coalition, and that became symbolic for his ability to win citywide."

But after Bradley left office in 1993, after the Rodney King riots and increasing accusations of black anti-Semitism nationwide, the groups parted ways.

Now, blacks and Jews are competing for a rapport with Latinos, said Sonenshein, a political science professor at California State University, Fullerton.

"But the big question is: Can (blacks) form partnerships with Latinos?" Hogen-Esch said. "There is a tremendous amount of tension in these neighborhoods undergoing transition. All you need to do is look at the kids in these schools in South Los Angeles where the kids are rioting. It is an indication of social tension, as is the rioting in the prisons."

Black politicians who recently have demonstrated the ability to rise quickly have been successful at bridging the communities. Like Assembly Majority Leader Karen Bass.

In 1990, Bass founded the Community Coalition in South L.A., a grass-roots organization with a broad mission to fight poverty, racism and joblessness. Not just for blacks but all living in the area.

Supported by blacks, Latinos and Jews, she entered politics in 2005 to represent the 47th Assembly District, which runs from Leimert Park to Koreatown to Westwood.

"I have no problem focusing on African-American issues," Bass said. "But focusing on African-American issues does not mean that is the only thing operating in my brain."

With Assemblyman Richard Alarcon running for the Northeast Valley's City Council District 7, his 39th Assembly seat could be the next opportunity for a black Valley politician.

A competitive candidate, political analysts said, would be a coalition builder a la Bradley and Bass, campaign on community issues and have broad appeal. Race, black Valley leaders said, should neither help nor hurt.

"The Valley is bigger than the color line now," said Mel Wilson, a black businessman who ran for Valley mayor during the 2002 secession effort. "And I don't think it would be difficult for an African-American to garner enough of the vote if they decided to run for office for any or all of the San Fernando Valley.

"From my perspective, the Valley thinks more in line of what is this person's activities in the community."

brad.greenberg(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3634
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 18, 2007
Words:975
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