Drugs, crime, the economy and a proposed pay raise for the mayor have dominated the campaign as seven candidates vie for two Inglewood City Council seats on the April 7 ballot.
In District 3, incumbent Bruce U. Smith is challenged by engineer Claude Lataillade and former school board member Ann Wilk.
Councilman Virgle Benson did not file for reelection in District 4 and three political newcomers and a former candidate are battling to take his place.
Garland Hardeman, Ervin (Tony) Thomas and Joseph Young, who are each seeking elective office in Inglewood for the first time, along with William Jenkins, who placed a distant second to Benson in 1983, are engaged in a campaign that has been marked by accusations of carpetbagging and cronyism.
As of last week, Smith reported raising more than $14,000 for the campaign. None of the other candidates had raised more than $3,000.
If no one gets more than 50% of the votes in a district, a runoff will be held June 9.
Smith, 67, is seeking election for a third term in his northwest Inglewood district and has the endorsement of Mayor Edward Vincent.
Both of his opponents say he has lost contact with his constituents.
"For the last four years, at least, Bruce has not had the best concerns of the district in mind," said Wilk, a 54-year-old housewife. "I don't think he's been an independent representative for the people of the district."
Wilk was on the school board for one term, losing a reelection bid in 1983.
Lataillade, 36, said it is time for younger leadership.
"We need an active, vigorous councilman in the district, working with all aspects of the community," Lataillade said. "Bruce has just not been active in that regard. That's not only my own personal perspective, but the people in the district. He's not doing anything. Maybe he's burnt out."
Smith, an Inglewood businessman, said that he has not lost touch with his district and has an "open door" policy with constituents.
"I answer not less than three calls a day and I have yet to not return a call," Smith said. "The people of my district elected me to represent them and that's what I do. I hold a block club captains' meeting every other month. I don't know how much closer I can get to them."
Smith said that he is running on his record.
"During my term as a councilman, there has been a 4% reduction in crime per year over the last six years," Smith said. "We've done that by adding 17 police officers in the past seven years."
He also said that he's been influential in forming the Neighborhood Watch program in the city.
"There were no Neighborhood Watches eight years ago. There are over 240 of them now," Smith said. "I try to push them everywhere I go."
Lataillade, a computer analyst at TRW Inc., has emphasized an anti-drug campaign.
"Even though the crime data have gone down, the drug-related component has grown steadily," Lataillade said. "It's that awareness that people are responding to."
He said Inglewood should consider subcontracting with private security firms to patrol drug-plagued areas, with the city paying part of the cost and residents the rest. He also said drug education should be stressed more heavily in the schools. He credited his experience as a volunteer drug counselor at a rehabilitation center in Saugus with providing him with insight into the problem.
Wilk said she would stress the educational aspects in any drug program.
"The police cannot be everywhere," Wilk said. "We need to start educating the children on how not to go along with peer pressure.
"We also need programs for the kids after school. We have a problem with latch-key kids. It has to be in the elementary schools. Once the kids are in high school, it's too late."
Wilk is also concerned that Inglewood has lost two chain department stores, Boston Stores and J. C. Penney, and is losing another, Sears. She said that the downtown area is not attractive to the family shopper.
"What do you have here now, except for small stores?" Wilk said. "You also have to pay to park. If something could be done to remove the meters, that might help."
She said that the council should consider turning the downtown area into an international marketplace.
"We need to offer something unique," Wilk said.
Lataillade said the council should offer appropriate incentives, including financial ones, to attract new business.
Both challengers expressed concern about a downtown theater that shows X-rated movies.
"We're a small community. What do we need a porno theater for?" Wilk said.
Smith said the council could do little about the department stores leaving. "The J. C. Penney building was bought and the man who bought it bought up their lease," Smith said.
"Sears, Roebuck is building a new store in Los Angeles and they're combining this store and the Pico store into one plant," he said. "The reason L.A. got the store was that it gave Sears a piece of property to build on. Inglewood doesn't have a piece big enough.
"I don't know how we could have kept Boston Stores. We can't give them money to stay. You're not keeping a tight budget when you subsidize business."
Smith said that while he, like his opponents, is concerned about the quality of the merchandise in some of the discount stores, he said stores like the newly opened Price Club make up for the loss of the department stores.
"The Price Club created more jobs and more revenue for the city then the other three did combined," Smith said.
He said the ideal economic mix for downtown would include commercial and residential areas as well as retail. Smith has not disclosed where he stands on Proposition 1, the measure on the ballot that would raise the mayor's yearly salary from $10,800 to $49,621. Smith, who voted with the rest of the City Council to place the initiative on the ballot, said he does not want to sway the voters' opinion by expressing his.
Lataillade said he is against the proposition because it raises substantial questions about the type of government Inglewood should have without answering them.
"The issue as I see it is, do we feel it's time to find a better way to govern the city?" Lataillade said. "But (the proposition) doesn't give a complete answer to . . . whether we should have a full-time mayor. All this is doing is raising the mayor's salary."
Wilk said Inglewood does not need somebody working as mayor full time, as Vincent says he already does. "If the mayor has too much to do, he has four city councilman he can delegate to," she said.
Smith won his last reelection bid over four challengers with 52% of the vote.
The same issues have been raised in the District 4 race, along with a few others.
Garland Hardeman has been accused of being a "carpetbagger" for moving into the district less than four months ago and has been criticized by his opponents for recently changing his party affiliation from Republican to Democratic.
"Mr. Hardeman has never voted in the 4th District and came in from another district as a carpetbagger," said Vincent, who has endorsed Ervin Thomas. "He has never voted there and I doubt very seriously that he lives there. But I do know that Hardeman owns some property in District 2."
Hardeman, a 30-year-old Los Angeles policeman, said he does live in District 4 but acknowledged that he moved into the district recently.
Hardeman said that he'd been looking for a house in the area for some time and that while it did occur to him that he was moving into District 4 and could run for council there, it wasn't his only concern.
"Inglewood is a small community and you can move across the street and be in a different district," Hardeman said. "All that I know is that I want to establish the rest of my life here."
He says he has done more in the community than either Young or Thomas.
Hardeman, who has lived in Inglewood for five years, asserted he has a "track record of working in the community."
"I have shown an interest in the city," he said.
William Jenkins described Hardeman as a solid Republican who changed his registration to Democratic because the district is largely Democratic.
Hardeman said that his party registration has nothing to do with the council race, which is nonpartisan. "I have a long-standing history of being a Democrat," Hardeman said. When asked how long he had been a Republican before changing affiliations, Hardeman said, "I don't want to discuss my party registration."
Little criticism has been directed by his opponents at Thomas, a 45-year-old administrator for 7-Up Bottling Co. Instead, they have gone after his mentor, Vincent, who has actively campaigned for Thomas since Benson missed the filing date.
Benson said he missed the deadline because his car broke down that day while he was working in Orange County and he was unable to get to City Hall before it closed. He also has endorsed Thomas.
"Vincent uses his support of candidates as a way to control them," said Jenkins, 63, a retiree. "I remember a few years ago, he told me, 'Follow me. If I move up, you move up.' But I'm not a yes man and I saw the direction he was going and I separated myself from Mr. Vincent years ago, when I found out he wasn't thinking about anything but himself."
Young Shares View
Hardeman and Joseph Young, a 30-year-old bookstore manager, also said Thomas would be controlled by Vincent.
Thomas, for his part, admits to being a Vincent supporter but said that would not stop him from disagreeing with Vincent on the council.
"He is a leader and because he's a leader I always pay very close attention to what he says," Thomas said. "So far, what he's said has been very positive. When you get around a great leader you open your ears."
Of the District 4 candidates, only Thomas is supporting Proposition 1.
"I'm very much in favor of it," Thomas said. "I think it's a situation where the chief executive officer should be compensated and rewarded for that position."
The other three candidates do not see it that way.
"I'm against it because it means more money in (Vincent's) pocket and higher taxes on the people in the community," Jenkins said. "That money could be better spent in hiring more police officers."
Young said that he has gone door-to-door against the proposition.
"We're determined to stop this, primarily because he's not doing the job he was elected to do," Young said. "Not only that, he's already the highest-paid mayor in the South Bay."
Young said he sees three issues in the campaign--prostitution, gang violence and drug trafficking.
He said the city should set up a counseling program for prostitutes.
"These are people who are homeless, who are misplaced, people who can't afford a house" Young said. "I don't think people are out selling their bodies for no reason at all."
He said that an improvement in the economy is needed to combat gangs and drugs.
"I don't think people will get involved in antisocial behavior if sound economic and educational opportunities exist," Young said. "So I will seek to bring more business into the community, which is something the present administration has failed to do."
Young does not like the influence that he says the burgeoning numbers of Korean merchants are having on the city.
"People have the right to live, work, own property anywhere in this country," Young said. "But at the same time, if someone comes into the community they have a responsibility to make it a better place. And it seems to me that the Korean merchants have a responsibility to provide employment in the community, particularly since they are making a profit from the community. They do not have a good record of hiring people in the community."
Terms Comments Racist
Vincent said that such comments are racist.
"If (Young) had anything going, he would be there instead of the Koreans," Vincent said.
Jenkins said that the city needs to turn more toward its young people, instead of the "overpriced bureaucrats" that it employs.
"You stop gang violence through education and the economic process by getting the kids jobs and things," Jenkins said.
He said the city should freeze the salaries of its top administrators. He pointed to City Manager Paul Eckles' salary, which at $117,514 makes Eckles the highest paid city manager in the country. If the administrators balk at the freeze, Jenkins said the city should hire young people to take their place.
Thomas said the people of District 4 are concerned about crime, "the minor gang problems especially, the graffiti and the like. They want clean alleys, strong police, youth employment. By working with the community, hand-in-hand with the residents, we can solve our problems."
Thomas said that "Inglewood is generating entrepreneurs and new prospective businessmen."
He said he would solve the city's drug problem by working with the block clubs.
"People in the block clubs can be provided with the vital information of what to look out for," Thomas said. "They can then report to their elected officials who can then look into the situation. Working with people is how you get things done in the community."
Hardeman said he would be "a driving force of real community unity in the city."
He said he would keep the community informed about the city's business.
"Things have not gone out to bid that should have, people have not been properly notified about changes in zoning laws," Hardeman said. "Through my years as a public servant I've gotten a lot of hands-on experience dealing with people problems. Those can be taxing if you do not enjoy dealing with them. But I enjoy them and these things are people problems."
Hardeman said to deal with the drug problem, the offenders need to be redirected to socially acceptable behavior.
"The desire to make money is prevalent among our kids," Hardeman said. "These drug dealers are entrepreneurs. They have as much business sense as most businessmen, except they use it illegally. Why not make the use of their minds by redirecting them into programs where they learn about stocks and bonds, and multinational marketing businesses? We need to get their hearts in the right place."