Democratic Feud for Assembly Seat Could Cost $1 Million
During a recent session of the state Assembly, Speaker Willie Brown introduced Edward K. Waters of Compton as the likely Democratic nominee in the 54th Assembly District.
The San Francisco Democrat noted that if Waters, 30, is elected, he and his mother, Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), would form the Assembly’s first mother-son combination.
However, the eight other Democrats in the June 3 primary are not quite ready to concede that historical footnote to the Waters family.
Indeed, the race to succeed six-term Assemblyman Frank Vicencia (D-Bellflower), who is retiring, is turning into one of the hottest political dogfights in Los Angeles County. The nine candidates could wind up spending a total of $1 million in the primary, which also would make the contest one of the more costly in the county.
Meanwhile, the candidates have begun to raise such issues as the need to crack down on crime by passing tougher laws and improving the quality of schools by decreasing classroom size.
The 54th District covers the cities of Bellflower, Compton, Lakewood and Paramount and portions of eastern Long Beach and some unincorporated areas including eastern Compton and Willowbrook. Democratic registration stands at 66% compared to 26% for Republicans with the remainder scattered among small parties and those who decline to state their party preference.
Attracting Most Attention
the campaign kicks into high gear, Democrats are attracting most of the attention because of the large field in the race, their registration bulge and Waters’ campaign and his high-powered endorsements. Only one Republican--Lakewood City Councilman Paul Zeltner--is on the GOP ballot.
In a move to maintain good relations with Assemblywoman Waters, who heads the Democratic Assembly caucus, and Brown, Vicencia last week endorsed Ed Waters.
Vicencia’s endorsement came in the wake of two attacks on the Waters campaign on April 4.
First, a half-dozen Compton city officials assailed Brown for interfering in the legislative contest and supporting Waters. At a news conference, they endorsed former Compton Mayor Doris A. Davis, 50, for the seat. Richard Ross, Brown’s chief lieutenant who is overseeing Waters’ campaign, downplayed the importance of Davis’ campaign and said he would not trade charges with her supporters “in the press.”
Also on April 4, candidate Kent A. Spieller, 34, a Bellflower lawyer, successfully challenged Waters’ ballot designation as a “state investigator.”
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction that prevents Waters from calling himself a “state investigator” on the ballot. Judge Ralph A. Biggerstaff called that a “misleading” description of Waters’ job.
Waters has worked for a federally financed agency that helps families relocate out of the path of the Century Freeway right-of-way. His new ballot designation is “relocation programs investigator.”
Waters said Tuesday that he believes his initial designation was an accurate reflection of his duties because his office monitored the state Department of Transportation and community development agencies. He said the problem was caused by the secretary of state’s office, which limits a candidate to a three-word description.
Waters questioned how voters could make an accurate determination about Spieller, who is identified on the ballot as a businessman-attorney. “What type of businessman or attorney is he? The voters don’t have any idea,” Waters said.
The Waters campaign has set up a large Compton Boulevard headquarters, and he has been meeting with voters in the district. Still, he has maintained a low profile with the press and until last week declined to respond to campaign allegations lodged against him by other candidates.
Waters a ‘Rookie’
A campaign aide, who asked not to be identified, explained that Waters is a “rookie” candidate and before granting press interviews tested himself in front of small groups of voters.
Another charge leveled against Waters and four other candidates by candidate Larry Ward is that they only recently moved into the district. Ward, 42, a Bellflower school board member, said he has the most ties to the district as a result of his position on the school board.
He asserted that Waters, Spieller and Willard Murray, 55, an aide to Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton), and former Compton Police Chief Thomas Cochee, moved into the district in recent months.
He also said that former Compton Mayor Davis maintains a residence on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. In response, Davis said she lives in Compton and that her Peninsula property is leased out.
Cochee was unavailable for comment. Spieller and Murray acknowledged that they have moved into the district since last summer. Spieller said he moved to Bellflower because he could afford a home there, it was close to his wife’s medical school, and he has legal clients in the area. Murray said he has worked in the area for many years as an aide to Dymally, who has endorsed him.
Residency a ‘Non-Issue’
Waters, who county voter records show registered on Feb. 4 at a Compton address, discounted the importance of the issue. “I think that the residency question is a non-issue,” he said, pointing out that he has worked in the district on the Century Freeway relocation and before that for the state Office of Economic Opportunity monitoring energy conservation and weatherproofing grants.
Waters entered the race after Brown in early February met with Compton officials in an attempt to find a consensus candidate. Brown said that when the officials could not agree, he supported Waters.
However, the Compton city officials, led by Mayor Walter Tucker and Councilmen Maxcy D. Filer and Robert Adams, said at their press conference that they urged Brown to support Davis but that the Speaker turned a deaf ear to them.
They said that, about a month ago, they sent Brown a telegram, which said in part: “We are very concerned about your efforts and those of Assemblywoman Maxine Waters to thwart the will of the community. . . . Rather than unite the party these activities have developed a potential schism.”
The officials said they had supported Vicencia, who is from Bellflower, in his campaigns and now they want someone from Compton to go to Sacramento. “It’s time for this community to have a representative,” Tucker said.
Brown strategist Ross said last week that Waters is “not going to take her (Davis) seriously” because “she was an unindicted co-conspirator” in a major corruption case.
Davis Took Stand in Trial
He referred to a 1976 case in which then-Compton City Councilmen Hillard Hamm and Russell Woolfolk were convicted in federal court of extorting $40,000 from a land investment partnership in exchange for their votes in favor of the city purchasing the partnership’s commercial property for $700,000.
No formal charges were brought against Davis, though the federal prosecutor named her an unindicted co-conspirator during the trial. Davis took the stand herself at one point in the trial and denied having been influenced to vote in favor of the purchase, though she conceded that she believed $700,000 was too high a price to pay for the property.
In campaign contribution reports filed with the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder and the secretary of state last month, Davis reported collecting the largest campaign bankroll--$103,000. Of that amount, Davis reported loaning her campaign $28,000 and, in turn, the campaign obtained a $50,000 loan from Metro Bank in Los Angeles. Davis has also obtained pledges of support amounting to $22,000.
Davis said she anticipates raising $250,000 for the campaign. “It’s not an easy race,” she recently told a group of elderly Compton residents. “It can get a little dirty and a little rough.”
Spieller Trailed Davis
For the period Jan. 1 to March 17, Spieller trailed Davis with $74,000 in contributions, according to his report. Of that amount, $25,000 was from direct contributions or loans from a San Francisco law firm and its two partners, H. Lee Evans and Gene A. Farber. Spieller also got $10,000 from Aubrey O. Prince, who operates a Los Angeles cleaning service and $5,000 from Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd (D-Hawthorne). He also figures the race could cost $250,000.
Waters reported receiving nearly $6,000 in contributions. Of that amount, $3,300 in campaign work was donated by Assemblywoman Waters’ campaign. Another $1,000 was donated by Assemblyman Gary A. Condit (D-Ceres).
Murray, who anticipates collecting $150,000, reported contributions of $1,400, with $1,000 from Dymally’s campaign committee.
Ward and Democrats Dan Branstine, 31, a former Lakewood city councilman, and Marty Israel, a consumer advocate, reported receipts of less than $500. Reports from Cochee and Bellflower City Councilman Ray O’Neal were unavailable from the registrar-recorder or the secretary of state in Sacramento.
Republican Zeltner reported contributions of $2,200 and Peace and Freedom Party candidate Vikki Murdock reported contributions of less than $500.
Times staff writer William Nottingham and desk assistant Kitty O’Steen contributed to this story.