Inglewood voters sent mixed signals in Tuesday's runoff election, but one message was clear: The four incumbents on the ballot had to go.
Both school board members up for reelection and a city councilman and the city treasurer were defeated.
But how the results will affect the city's politics remains unclear, and may not be known until after a recount in the District 4 City Council race where there was no incumbent. Garland Hardeman, the heavy favorite, had a strong lead until absentee votes went for his opponent, Ervin (Tony) Thomas, by a 6-1 margin. The final count put Thomas on top by nine votes.
In the other city races, Ann Wilk upset incumbent Councilman Bruce U. Smith and Wanda Brown ousted incumbent Treasurer H. Stanley Jones.
In the school board races, PTA leader Zyra McCloud defeated incumbent William Dorn and Lois Hill Hale won easily over incumbent William (Tony) Draper.
Only 12.5% of the city's registered voters turned out for the election, which occurred on the same day that the Lakers' National Basketball Assn. championship was being celebrated at The Forum.
The results were mixed signals for several reasons:
- In a proxy battle being waged in the two council races by Mayor Edward Vincent and Councilman Anthony Scardenzan, voters picked Thomas, one of Vincent's candidates, and Wilk, one of Scardenzan's. Wilk defeated two-term incumbent Smith, who had Vincent's endorsement. Scardenzan gave money to Hardeman's campaign.
- Brown, Vincent's city treasurer candidate, won, but one of the mayor's allies on the school board, Dorn, was defeated.
- Voters also threw out a Vincent adversary on the school board, Draper, who unsuccessfully challenged the mayor for reelection last year.
The outcome of the District 4 race may not be known for some time.
While Hardeman waited at his headquarters Tuesday night, his campaign manager Ralph Franklin and several supporters were at City Hall, celebrating what seemed to be an insurmountable 544-233 lead when the last of the district's eight precincts were counted.
But the party stopped abruptly when it was announced that Thomas received 385 absentee votes to Hardeman's 65 and snatched a 618-609 victory in the election to replace Virgle Benson, who did not seek reelection.
"We will challenge each ballot on its face to determine whether the individuals actually submitted the ballots," said Hardeman, a 30-year-old Los Angeles police officer. "We will try to establish a pattern of fraud. I can't believe that many absentee ballots were submitted for my opponent, at least not legitimately. I will review my legal options. I'm confident justice will prevail."
Hardeman, calling Vincent "unscrupulous and unethical," said in an interview that he received reports of instances where Thomas and Vincent personally tried to coerce elderly voters into casting absentee ballots for Thomas. Hardeman had outpolled Thomas 48.2% to 29.6% in a four-man primary field.
Both Thomas and Vincent denied any impropriety.
Many Hardeman supporters were visibly upset, but Hardeman remained stoic.
"I'm upset, but I'm a police officer," Hardeman said. "I've seen people shot. I've seen people jump to their deaths. I've learned to maintain my composure in these situations."
He also said that he is getting married this weekend and does not want anything to interfere with that.
Meanwhile, at the raucous election night celebration at Vincent's permanent campaign headquarters, he and Thomas said it was all a matter of hard work.
"A lot of people don't have a chance to go to the polls," Thomas said about those who cast absentee ballots for him. "They leave early in the morning and get home late at night. These are the type of people who will only vote if it's convenient for them."
"We started early," Vincent said when asked how the campaign got so many absentee ballots. "Actually, I think we got a lot more of them than they counted."
City Atty. Howard Rosten said that Hardeman would have to challenge the election through City Clerk Hermanita Harris.
If Harris rejects the appeal and certifies the election, it would go before the City Council. If it, too, certifies the election--which is likely, because Vincent and his allies control the current council--Hardeman could file suit.
Wilk will become the first woman on the council since 1963. She defeated Smith, 571 votes to 550, as he tried for a third term in District 3.
A former member of the school board, Wilk led throughout the ballot counting. She credited her victory to the support she got from women, whom she targeted with a special mailer pointing out the city had not had a woman on the council in almost a quarter-century. She had trailed Smith by 240 votes in the primary.
She said she plans to be an independent on the board, that she hopes she can work with Vincent and the other members of the council.
"I am going to do my job," the 54-year-old homemaker said. "If I get cooperation from the other members of the board, fine. If not, I'll work harder. If the other members of the council find it difficult to work with a woman, I'll work harder still. I can work with Vincent and cooperate with him if we have the same concern for the city. If not, then too bad for him."
It was an unexpected loss for Smith, who in April had confidently predicted he would win more than half the votes in the primary and avoid a runoff. He blamed his failure then on his decision not to take a stand on April's Proposition 1, the controversial proposal to quadruple the mayor's salary that was routed by a 2-1 margin.
After he received 45.2% of the vote to 29.7% for Wilk in the primary, Smith, 67 and the owner of a metal finishing shop, said he had been against the proposition all along.
Wilk would not let the voters forget his silence on the issue, however, calling him "wishy-washy." She, like Scardenzan, said Smith was controlled by Vincent.
Smith said he lost "because people were too lethargic."
"They took it for granted I was going to win," he said. "Ann got as many votes as she did because she used the word 'machine.' Who's the machine? . . . I haven't seen the mayor in three weeks."
During the campaign Scardenzan said that both Smith and outgoing Councilman Benson were controlled by Vincent, forming a majority that he said would not allow him to bring forward proposals to increase the size of the police force and to improve the sister city program.
"With the new members on the council there will be new ideas and, hopefully, better government," Scardenzan said Wednesday.
He said he finds Thomas' victory "somewhat fishy," but "if that's the will of the people I will try to work with him on the council like any other legitimate winner."
Vincent said any perceived animosity between him and Scardenzan "is political and those things come and go," pointing out that both he and Scardenzan usually vote the same way on issues before the council.
Trying to be conciliatory, Vincent said he will have no problem working with Wilk.
"Ann has lived in the city a long time," he said. "I look forward to working with her."
Tabor the Swing Vote
If Thomas' election is upheld, it could cause a 2-2 split, with Thomas and Vincent on one side, Scardenzan and Wilk on the other. This would give District 1 Councilman Daniel K. Tabor the controlling vote on the council.
Tabor was noncommittal about his possible role as the swing vote.
"I haven't arrived at that conclusion yet," Tabor said. "I've agreed with Scardenzan on some issues, Vincent on some others. I have agreed with neither of them sometimes. Maybe this will give me some additional leverage, but I don't know that."
The victories by Hill Hale and McCloud will probably force a shift in politics on the five-member school board.
Dorn had been allied with trustees Caroline Coleman and Ernest Shaw to form a majority on most controversial issues, including the passage of a 10% pay increase for the district's teachers last March.
McCloud, who overcame a 1,900-vote deficit in the primary to defeat Dorn, 2,670 votes to 2,484, is expected to align with Rosemary Benjamin, who had often teamed with Draper on key issues.
Hill Hale, chief deputy to state Sen. Diane K. Watson (D-Los Angeles), said during the campaign she hopes to "remove political agendas" from the board. She defeated Draper 2,822 votes to 2,284.
Both Hill Hale and McCloud waged strong campaigns while Draper and Dorn spent little time and or money.
Hill Hale spent more than $22,000 on mailers, phone banks and loudspeaker-toting vans in wiping out the almost 600-vote disadvantage she had in the primary. She even made an appearance at Tuesday's Laker rally at the Forum urging people to vote.
Hill Hale was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but during the campaign she had stressed plans for better anti-drug programs in the schools and a performing arts school.
She also had the support of the Inglewood Teachers Assn. because of Draper's outspoken criticism of the pay raise awarded the teachers.
Draper, 43, a manager at Hughes Aircraft, spent a little more than $1,000 on the campaign, and losing didn't seem to upset him very much.
When interviewed by phone Tuesday night, sounds of a party at his house could be heard as Draper talked about what he expects next for Hill Hale and the school board.
"I hope it all works out for the school district," he said. "But I think that's a real tough proposition with the people that are now on the board. Hopefully, some of them will spend some time worrying about the schools."
Before the primary Draper had said he would be happy even if he lost if his often bitter enemy on board, Dorn, was defeated.
He got his wish as McCloud used an army of volunteers to get votes.
"This means that the children are going to come first," McCloud said. She said she will see to it that district Supt. Rex Fortune, who has stormy dealings with the current board, "will be given the opportunity to do the job."
She has long been a critic of the board, which she says tries to administer the district rather than adhere to its state-mandated role of setting policy.
McCloud, 35, a professional tutor, has a suit pending against the district for injuries she said she received when she was physically removed from a board meeting two years ago by a security officer acting on Dorn's orders.
Dorn, a 46-year-old orthopedic surgeon, did not return several phone calls.
In the city treasurer's race, Brown's 2,508-2,272 victory brought to an end the 24-year career of Jones.
She had campaigned against his low-profile image, saying that even though he had been in office a long time, few people know who he is.
Brown, a 43-year-old financial consultant, said she has no plans to make changes in the office immediately.
Jones, 62 and an accountant, said he has "no sour grapes. I had 24 years in office. It was fun. But that's life. That's politics."
Wilk and Brown will be sworn in at the June 30 City Council meeting, as could Thomas depending on the outcome of Hardeman's appeal. Hill Hale and McCloud will take their oaths at the July 6 school board meeting.