Once the home of Nat (King) Cole and Joe Louis, Los Angeles' 10th Council District still retains some of the old flavor of the "Sugar Hill" neighborhoods with their expensive property, expansive houses and elegant lawns.
Thriving shops still line the busy streets of Pico and Crenshaw boulevards. And the ethnic mix of black, Anglo, Asian and Latino residents makes the 10th District one of the most richly diverse and rapidly changing communities in the city.
But in a district bisected by the Santa Monica Freeway and stretching southwest from downtown Los Angeles, one can also see the frayed signs of blight and frustration.
Unkempt vacant lots, abandoned cars and spray-painted graffiti pockmark some neighborhoods. Boarded-up stores and dying businesses can be found near sprawling shopping centers. Angry neighbors petition against the spread of unsightly auto repair shops and liquor stores. And, in many parts of the 10th District, drug pushers and prostitutes can be seen openly pitching their wares.
Even in quiet neighborhoods of neatly trimmed lawns and shrubbery, residents have installed security bars on their windows and wrought-iron screen doors as a barrier to strangers.
"When I walk these precincts, I can't even see anybody behind those screen doors. People are afraid. They are concerned about their quality of life. That's how bad crime is in this district," said Homer Broome Jr., a former police captain and public works commissioner, who is now running for the 10th District council seat.
The district, which was once represented by Mayor Tom Bradley, has been without a city councilman since David Cunningham abruptly resigned last October to become an investment banker.
Broome has the endorsement of both Bradley and Cunningham in the April 14 election. But he is up against 12 other candidates on the ballot who are campaigning in the most tightly contested of the city's seven council races.
For many, the 10th District election is viewed as a major political test for Bradley in his home district.
After Cunningham's resignation last fall, Bradley had formed a committee of community activists and elected officials with the intention of choosing a consensus candidate or candidates that could avert a political split in the district.
When that effort failed with the committee's inability to reach agreement, a crowded field of candidates quickly formed, all hoping to win the council seat outright--or, more realistically, make the June runoff as one of the two top vote-getters.
Some local residents who supported the mayor during his mayoral campaigns and his two gubernatorial bids have groused about his support of Broome, an old friend and political ally making his first bid for elected office.
At a breakfast meeting of Baptist ministers recently, the Rev. J. P. Strong told his fellow pastors that they should urge their congregations to support former state Sen. Nate Holden, who has his own powerful political backer in county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn.
"We're not here to fight the mayor. . . . But I'm afraid when someone says so-and-so is the mayor's man. We need our man. We need our own man," said Strong to choruses of approval.
Holden's stature as a former state legislator who has run previously for the council seat and other offices gives him a prominent name in the 10th District although his string of losing campaigns has also led to some public skepticism from critics who label him a perennial candidate.
For the district's 84,000 registered voters, there are plenty of choices.
In addition to Broome and Holden, the leading hopefuls include Myrlie Evers, who is backed by a number of prominent women legislators and is the widow of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers; Kenneth Orduna, the chief of staff for Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton); attorney Arthur Song Jr., and Geneva Cox, a longtime field deputy for Cunningham.
Also in the race are attorney Grover P. Walker; Denise G. Fairchild, a city planner and former commissioner on the city's Environmental Quality Board, and Jessie Mae Beavers, a community newspaper editor and member of the city Human Relations Commission.
Rounding out the field are Ramona Raquel Whitney, a counselor and educator; William A. Weaver, a public utilities inspector; Esther M. Lofton, an educator-administrator, and Jordan Daniels Jr., a member of the county Commission for Public Social Services.
In a district that is 44% black, 22% Anglo, 22% Latino and 12% Asian, all but one of the candidates are black. Song is a Korean-American, and during the campaign, he has stressed the need to defuse racial tensions between blacks and Asians before the issue further divides the community.
Reflecting that uneasiness during one meeting with candidates in the Crenshaw area, a black woman pointedly asked Song why so many Asians control local service stations but fail to hire black employees or encourage business from blacks. Another complained that she and others were losing their Civil Service jobs to Asian immigrants "who don't even bother to learn English."
Song, who was raised in South-Central Los Angeles, said the problem is a cyclical one between newcomers--many of them Korean--and those entrenched in the community, many of whom are black.
The questions, however, reflect the changing nature of the 10th District. In last year's redrawing of district lines, large portions of the Asian community were added to the northeast section, while largely white neighborhoods on the west were annexed.
Last week, Evers, who is on leave from her job with Atlantic Richfield Co., walked through some of those newer areas near Palms and heard residents insist on the need to preserve the rustic flavor of their rolling streets and tree-lined neighborhoods. She also listened as a frail, elderly woman on Malcolm Avenue pleaded for help in trying to stave off developers trying to buy the house in which she has lived for 45 years.
She said she also discovered that people in the new parts of the 10th District had concerns other than crime and deteriorating conditions. They complained of city services and not enough street parking, and they also were wary of being ignored by a new council member. To allay these fears, Evers said, "they want to see the candidates for themselves."
When they have not been walking precincts, the candidates have been appearing at candidate forums throughout the district, speaking to small crowds and enduring the faulty microphones, severe time limits and planted questions from the audience. Last week alone, nearly all the candidates attended four forums in six days--armed with their campaign literature and their public optimism that they will win in April.
They also revealed few major differences about the issues that face residents of the 10th District.
They lamented neighborhood crime, deteriorating commercial areas and the lack of adequate city services. They promised to curb the proliferation of auto body shops and liquor stores in the community and suggested that the district is not receiving its fair share of public dollars and attention from City Hall and its agencies.
To combat crime, most called for better deployment of police, and all opposed a June ballot proposal by Councilman Robert Farrell that would ask voters in parts of South-Central Los Angeles to allow raising their property taxes to pay for more police.
"We all basically agree on the issues. We're saying the same things," Orduna said. "We just need to establish ourselves with the voters."
For Orduna that has meant seizing upon an issue--the Los Angeles Unified School District plans to condemn residential property and expand school property--and joining protesters in appearing before the school board and picketing the homes of school board members.
Other candidates remind voters that some of their opponents are backed by "political machines" and challenge their independence while others have depicted Broome, Evers and Holden as "carpetbaggers" who moved only recently to the district in order to run for office.
At several candidate forums, the three have had to respond to the residency charge and have emphasized that they have complied with the residency requirements of the city and have roots in the district that go back years.
Despite the attacks, it is clear that by virtue of their names, political backing or financial support, the three of them are among the front-runners for the $53,266-a-year council job.
In addition to enjoying the mayor's backing, for example, Broome has the help of some top Bradley political aides and a veteran City Hall consulting firm--Winner Taylor & Associates. Broome also reported raising nearly $110,000 in his first campaign report, the most of any candidate.
Holden reported raising $69,845, but that was before a major fund-raising dinner at the Beverly Wilshire last week. And with perhaps the most familiar name among voters, Holden may not need as much money to explain who he is.
Evers reported only $27,155 in contributions, but she also has some name identification. And that financial figure is expected to increase with help from supporters including state Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), Assemblywomen Teresa P. Hughes and Maxine Waters of Los Angeles and City Councilman Michael Woo.
But there are other contenders who could emerge in the final weeks of the campaign.
Orduna, tapping some of that old Dymally support and with such backers as United Farm Workers union chief Cesar Chavez, reported raising $38,305. Song reported raising $36,733--including a personal loan he made of $14,428. Both men have been active precinct walkers, and Song billboards can be seen in the district.
Beavers, an executive editor of the Los Angeles Sentinel, has raised $20,208 and Cox, the former field deputy, has raised $11,997. Both say they are counting on a wide circle of grass-roots activists to bolster their campaigns.
Among the others, Fairchild reported $9,799--nearly half of that her own money. As a group, the remaining candidates reported raising substantially smaller amounts.