Hard Man to Beat : Decked by absentee ballots for Tony Thomas on election night, Garland Hardeman moved his battle for Inglewood City Council to the courts and now works for a rematch at the ballot box.

Times Staff Writer

It is a classic story: a house-to-house fight for political turf that became a courtroom battle over the democratic process.

It is the story of Garland Hardeman, the Inglewood City Council candidate who won't go away. It is the story of a crusade that got an election overturned and implicated a mayor in Election Code violations.

But it needs an ending.

The setting is a city incorporated in 1911 that ranks seventh in population in Los Angeles County, with about 104,000 residents. After undergoing turbulent racial change in the 1970s, Inglewood is about 55% black, 25% Latino, 15% white and 5% Asian and other.

Residents take pride in the city's civic spirit and economic revitalization. Construction hit a record high in 1987. Crime has dropped 30% in six years. The Forum, the Hollywood Park race track and nearby Los Angeles International Airport also contribute to an emerging sense of potential. Despite lingering pockets of urban despair, a once-dubious image is catching up to the reality: Inglewood is resolutely middle-class and on the move.

Inglewood politics, however, remain Byzantine and contentious. At the core of this story is a conflict between two tough politicians: Garland Hardeman and Mayor Edward Vincent.

City's First Black Mayor

Vincent, 53, is a county probation officer and a veteran of city politics with fierce critics and fierce supporters. His stocky build and political style reflect his background as a college football star--he is aggressive, upbeat and a nonstop promoter of Inglewood and what he calls his "team" concept of government. Opponents call it a political machine. The city's first black mayor, he easily won reelection in 1986. But his control of the council was at stake in last spring's election.

Hardeman, a 31-year-old Los Angeles police officer, was a comparative newcomer willing to challenge the mayor on his own turf. Hardeman--also athletic and charismatic, with a smooth, earnest style--looks the part of the reform candidate. Opponents say the image is a facade.

Vincent put his political muscle behind candidate Ervin (Tony) Thomas in the 4th District council election, and an aggressive absentee ballot campaign won the June 16 runoff for Thomas by a handful of votes.

But Hardeman would not accept defeat. He began a campaign to prove the election had been stolen.

Enlisting the help of several young public interest lawyers, Hardeman achieved what had seemed impossible: Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Leon Savitch annulled the election of Councilman Thomas in October and called for a new election.

City officials say it is the only such case they know of in Inglewood history. Court decisions annulling elections are rare, and state and county election officials say comprehensive records are not kept. Officials in the 10 largest cities in Los Angeles County say no council election has been annulled in their cities in at least 40 years.

Remains in Office

But Savitch did not declare Hardeman the winner. Instead, he ordered a new election, and Thomas remains in office pending appeal.

Both sides say the voters have been disenfranchised. That is the only point of agreement.

Hardeman and his supporters say the judge did not go far enough. They want further investigation and they want Hardeman placed in office immediately.

Vincent and Thomas insist they did nothing wrong. They and other city officials say routine irregularities are being wrongly portrayed as a criminal conspiracy. They say the judge punished the city for ambiguities in state absentee voting laws.

That debate, and possibly the balance of power in Inglewood, will ultimately be decided in the courts or at the polls.

SHOWDOWN

Hardeman came close to winning the April primary outright.

The 5-year Los Angeles Police Department veteran, a Detroit native with a master's degree in public administration, received 48.2% of the vote against three opponents. He had an array of endorsements, including support from councilmen Anthony Scardenzan and Danny Tabor and a good-size campaign fund.

Thomas, who got 29.6% of the primary vote, was a last-minute candidate who entered the race after Councilman Virgle Benson, a Vincent ally, failed to meet the filing deadline. Thomas was the mayor's candidate in the mayor's home district and had the endorsement of the other major political figure in Inglewood, Assemblyman Curtis R. Tucker (D-Inglewood).

The runoff promised to be a showdown that might decide whether Vincent would retain a majority of supporters on the council.

Heated Argument

Vincent and Hardeman had already had a heated argument outside a polling place during the primary. The next confrontation came on May 5: Vincent told a press conference that Hardeman--who had lived in Inglewood since 1984 but moved into the 4th District in September, 1986--was a "carpetbagger" and did not live in the district.

But both the city attorney and the district attorney determined that Hardeman was eligible to run.

Hardeman's fiancee, Grace Garland, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, was working hard on the campaign. She also was planning their wedding, scheduled for the Sunday after the election.

"I had envisioned things going like clockwork," Hardeman said in a recent interview. "It was going to be a double celebration."

In the final weeks, Hardeman grew concerned when he learned that Thomas and Vincent were mounting a concerted drive for absentee votes. Thomas workers were going door to door in Imperial Village, the neighborhood where Thomas and Vincent lived, and in the lower Lockhaven area.

"It seemed like they were going to great lengths to beat me," Hardeman said.

Parke Skelton, Hardeman's political consultant, told the candidate not to worry. Skelton, who specializes in "insurgent" political campaigns, said Thomas would get 200 absentee votes at the most.

ELECTION SURPRISE

On election night, with all votes from the polls counted, Hardeman was leading Thomas 544 to 233, a margin of more than 2 to 1. At Hardeman headquarters, there were balloons, telegrams, champagne.

Then the absentee votes were counted. A 6-to-1 margin in absentees gave Thomas the election by nine votes. (A recount later changed the final tally to 626-610).

"You're always nervous about the outcome of an election," Hardeman said. "But it had seemed like a runaway."

Grace Hardeman says her husband had worried about such a calamity, however.

"He kept saying, 'I have a bad feeling about this,' " she recalled. "I didn't understand it. Then, when the absentee ballots came in he got this look of 'I knew it' on his face. He goes: 'They did it. They did it to me.' "

Skelton broke out in hives.

"I was stunned," he said in an interview. "It was like swallowing a Brillo pad. It was like being eviscerated from the inside."

Pure Hard Work

Meanwhile, Vincent and Thomas were celebrating at Thomas' Imperial Highway headquarters, saying the victory was just pure hard work.

"We started early," Vincent said on election night. "Actually, I think we got a lot more of them (absentee votes) than they counted."

Hardeman demanded a recount and began looking into reports about the tactics of the Thomas campaign.

He also had a wedding to attend.

Grace Hardeman recalls: "I was thinking, how's our honeymoon going to be? Of course it's going to put a damper on things. The main topic at the wedding wasn't the wedding but the election. It's like you wanted to ask people please not to talk about it."

The Hardemans went on a one-week honeymoon in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.

"You really couldn't get away from it," Hardeman said. "If the food didn't come right away in a restaurant, I'd get mad. If my wife wasn't ready when I wanted to go somewhere, I'd go to the car and wait. I was tense."

TOUGH TIMES

It was a summer without sleep.

After finishing overnight shifts as a Wilshire District patrolman, Hardeman armed himself with a legal pad and took up the most important investigation of his life.

"I felt like I had been the victim," he said. "The voters were victims also. They didn't know what was going on or what had happened to them. My police instinct helped me. I started in the districts where I knew (Thomas) had concentrated and I went door to door."

He says he collected accounts about Thomas workers returning repeatedly to voters' houses and punching voters' absentee ballots for them, telling voters whom to vote for, telling voters it was legal to sign ballots for absent family members, collecting unsealed ballots.

Hardeman went to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office with about 25 statements signed by voters and a handwriting analyst's opinion that some ballot signatures did not match signatures on registration records. The district attorney opened an investigation June 24, eight days after the runoff.

Thomas and Vincent said Hardeman was being a sore loser.

The investigation would take time--nearly eight months later, it still has not been completed--and it would not change the election outcome. Only a civil challenge could do that, but it would require a good lawyer and money Hardeman didn't have.

Grass-Root Interests

Enter Fred Woocher and the nonprofit Center for Law in the Public Interest in West Los Angeles. The center donates legal advice in selected cases of public interest, often aiding grass-roots activists against powerful foes.

The bearded, curly-haired Woocher has a law degree and a Ph.D. in psychology, both from Stanford University. He once clerked for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. He had met Skelton, Hardeman's political consultant, when they assisted a Latino group in a recall effort against former Los Angeles Councilman Arthur K. Snyder.

"I felt it was a good case and it would be an injustice if it died," Woocher says. "Garland had documentary evidence. It sounded like there were criminal violations. But the court tends to uphold against election contests."

Woocher was intrigued that hundreds of absentee ballots had been collected and mailed by the Thomas campaign. The Election Code prohibits someone other than the voter from delivering absentee votes to the city clerk; Woocher felt the laws were unclear as to whether mailing by a third party was legal.

On July 17, Hardeman filed suit against Thomas, charging coercion and intimidation of voters, illegal delivery of absentee ballots and other violations of the Election Code.

Woocher helped prepare the suit, but the center did not have the resources to represent Hardeman in a trial. Hardeman's political contributors were not willing to pay for a lawyer. Woocher approached law firms about handling the case pro bono and found no takers. Woocher and Skelton considered the possibility of Hardeman representing himself.

Taking a Toll

The ordeal was taking a toll on Hardeman, his wife and her 7-year-old son, Chase.

"It caused problems at home," Hardeman says. "I could never stop, knowing that this injustice had been done to me. My wife felt it, too, but she wanted me home sometimes. I was wired. It got to the point where I'd just leave the house, because I knew I was so wired I would end up saying something to hurt her."

Then Grace Hardeman's doctor gave them the news that she was pregnant.

"It was not the best time," Grace Hardeman acknowledges. "At that moment it was the last thing he wanted to hear. Emotionally that was hard. It's not that he wasn't happy, but he wasn't able to show that enthusiasm. . . . I was starting to wonder if the suit was really worth it, the strain, him getting physically ill. He was working Wilshire, which is a real busy station. He might have seen a suicide or a gang shooting and then turn around and come back to all this."

Thomas did not show up at a pretrial hearing in early August, nor did he send an attorney. But City Atty. Howard Rosten appeared because an Inglewood election was being contested, and he made it clear that he felt the suit was a waste of time.

City Hall Invitation

Later that month, Vincent and Hardeman ran into each other on the street. Vincent invited Hardeman to meet with him at City Hall.

The two rivals made polite conversation in the mayor's well-appointed office on the ninth floor, the city spreading to the south and east from the tall windows.

Vincent and Hardeman generally agree on what was discussed, but their interpretations differ.

Hardeman says Vincent talked about possibilities that might open in area politics in the future and indicated Hardeman should lower his profile and tone down his comments about the case.

"He said he didn't want to talk about the election, but I think he was telling me to let the lawsuit die and I might get his support in the future," Hardeman said. "I told him I was going to pursue the lawsuit."

Vincent says he and Hardeman talked politics, but is emphatic in saying that he was not trying to persuade Hardeman to back off. He says he merely told Hardeman that his attacks on the mayor and Thomas at council meetings and in the press would backfire.

"If I were in his position, I would feel the same way," Vincent said in a recent interview. "But I told him he was going to turn people off with the way he was going about it."

Bright Future

Vincent, who has criticized Hardeman while saying he has a bright political future, said he has nothing against Hardeman personally. The mayor also energetically repeated his contention that he did nothing illegal during the June election.

In any case, Hardeman says his resolve was diminishing.

Hardeman says: "I was asking myself, 'Is it all worth it? You stand to lose a whole lot more than you'll gain.' My wife was pregnant, she didn't need the aggravation. The relationship was rocky. At some point I had to give up and go on with my life. I was really tired."

Then Skelton called. A law firm had agreed to take the case free of charge.

THE LAWYERS

The firm was Tuttle & Taylor. Woocher was an old friend of Mark Borenstein, a top lawyer at Tuttle & Taylor who had tried to recruit Woocher in 1980. Tuttle & Taylor often does pro bono work for clients referred by the Center for Law in the Public Interest.

"We'd never taken on an election case," says Borenstein, 35, whose speaking style both in and out of court is rapid-fire and good-humored. "We took this one for two reasons. One was Fred, and Fred's belief that there were strong facts here. And two was the absentee ballot mail issue. It sounded pretty egregious. I thought it couldn't be the case that a third party could not hand-deliver an absentee ballot but a third party could mail one. If that was the law, it had to be changed."

Somewhat dazed by the trappings of power suddenly at his disposal, Hardeman met with Borenstein in the firm's high-rise office suite in downtown Los Angeles.

Ask for Continuance

"When we met with him and saw some of the materials, we saw there was a lot of work to be done. As good lawyers often do, our first strategy was to ask for a continuance," Borenstein said.

But at a pretrial conference Sept. 4, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Savitch declared the trial would begin in a week. Election law mandates that challenges be given top priority and suspends many standard rules of procedure. That put attorneys for all parties--the city and city clerk were added as defendants along with Thomas--under constraints. Borenstein's legal team, which usually has months to prepare a case, needed more witnesses and evidence before it could go to trial, let alone prove that at least 16 votes for Thomas were illegal.

"I had thought it might be doable in three weeks," Borenstein says. "Fred was incredibly demoralized. He had thought it was virtually impossible in three weeks. I called everyone together and told them we had a little work to do over the Labor Day weekend."

The lawyers, Hardeman, Skelton and several Hardeman supporters spent the three-day weekend telephoning voters and asking them about how the Thomas campaign had solicited and collected their absentee ballots. Woocher and Borenstein have memories of an exhausted Hardeman falling asleep at conference room tables.

With lawyers, paralegals and a private investigator working long hours, the investigation picked up through the week, allaying Borenstein's fear that he would run out of witnesses.

"It was looking like we were at least going to have something to say," Borenstein says.

THE TRIAL

The first voter to testify, Irish Smith, said an unidentified "white lady" whom she believed to be a Thomas campaign worker came to her home and punched her absentee ballot for her. The campaign worker then punched the ballot of her daughter Pamela, who was asleep at the time, told Smith it was all right to sign her daughter's ballot and took the ballots away, Smith testified. She said she had no idea how her ballot was voted, but assumed the votes were cast for Thomas.

When Thomas attorney Robert Stroud asked Smith on cross-examination if she felt the campaign worker had coerced her into voting, she answered in the affirmative.

Then another voter, Nancy Armstrong, testified that Mayor Vincent came to her home and punched her ballot for Thomas; her daughter Pamela testified that Vincent returned several days later and punched her ballot as well.

"I felt like he took my rights away," Nancy Armstrong said.

In Borenstein's estimation, that opening testimony caught the interest of Savitch, a jurist given to crisp language, dry courtesy and a habit of drumming his fingers.

"He had been impatient up to that point," Borenstein says. "But with the Armstrongs he realized the mayor had been involved. What he heard initially was egregious."

Reluctant Witnesses

The lawyers were still scrambling to collect evidence and coax reluctant witnesses to court. Borenstein improvised, calling Woocher, Hardeman and Skelton to the stand when scheduled witnesses failed to show up.

"It was seat-of-the-pants stuff," Borenstein says. "Normally when I do a trial I have deposed witnesses. I know exactly what they are going to say and if they deviate even one syllable I impeach them with the transcript. But we talked to witnesses only a little on the phone or in the hallway."

The lawyers and judge often explored untested waters. For example, Rosten and Stroud objected strenuously when Borenstein asked witnesses how they voted. Forced to balance the right of secrecy against the need to determine whether votes were illegal, Savitch directed some witnesses to answer, bringing more hesitant ones into his chambers. In other cases, Savitch ruled that witnesses did not have to reveal their votes.

Savitch told Borenstein to get to the point several times, but seemed increasingly intrigued by the case. Savitch ruled against Hardeman on the central legal question that attracted his lawyers to the case: whether ballots collected from voters and mailed by the Thomas campaign should be declared illegal because of the potential for fraud. The judge acknowledged the potential, but said he could not rule that the Legislature intended to ban the practice.

But Hardeman's lawyers say that question piqued the judge's interest, and he therefore admitted important evidence on other challenged votes.

Multiple Votes

There were points in Hardeman's favor, such as a woman who admitted to voting for Thomas once at the polls and once by absentee ballot; two votes cast using the Thomas campaign headquarters, a commercial building, as a residential address; and the instances in which voters corroborated the testimony of a handwriting expert and admitted that they had signed ballots or registration affidavits for absent family members after campaign workers told them they could do so. Each afternoon, Hardeman and his lawyers met to discuss the proceedings, making repeated tallies in hopes of getting a solid 16 illegal votes.

In cross-examinations, Rosten and Stroud focused on the concept of free will. When witnesses described being pressured to vote by campaign workers in their homes, the defense lawyers hammered at one question: Had the vote itself been voluntary?

Witnesses invariably answered in the affirmative. Nonetheless, Borenstein and Woocher argued that the testimony showed that campaign workers had coerced people into voting or illegally signing the ballots of relatives and handing them over, sometimes unsealed.

"My main concern was whether the judge was going to get a sense of the scope of the outrageousness," Woocher says.

The defense's battle cry was "irregularities," as opposed to "illegalities." Though campaign conduct was sometimes "not admirable," as Rosten put it, he insisted that absentee ballot laws designed to increase participation by minorities had fulfilled their purpose admirably.

"He's idealistically blinded," Rosten said of Borenstein in an interview later. "There may be people who believe there are elections that are 100% perfect, but that's not the case. There were illegal votes and suspicious circumstances in this election, just as there are in any election."

Borenstein said: "To say that what went on during this election was business-as-usual is simply nonsense."

Helped Taint Votes

Hardeman's lawyers came to believe that the verdict would ultimately hinge on witness credibility and on Savitch's perception of the Thomas campaign. For example, Thomas was forced to explain why his three adult stepchildren cast votes from his Inglewood address when evidence showed they lived at two Los Angeles homes. (He said they also lived at his home.) Borenstein feels that testimony helped taint those votes and harm Thomas' overall credibility.

Similarly, Mayor Vincent's testimony was significant because of the prominent role he and members of his family played in the campaign.

Vincent was asked about 14 challenged ballots without postage that were stamped at 10:01 a.m. and 10:02 a.m. Election Day by the city clerk's office. If they had not been mailed, how did they all arrive at once? City Clerk Hermanita Harris and an employee had testified that they did not recall so many voters lining up then or another time to turn in ballots.

Vincent testified that he had mailed about 20 ballots to the clerk's office in an Express Mail envelope. Harris testified that she remembered receiving such an envelope, but did not remember whether it was on Election Day.

But Borenstein cited testimony by witnesses who said those ballots were picked up at their homes by Vincent, Thomas and other campaign workers and argued that the evidence showed they had been illegally hand-delivered.

Threw Out 14 Ballots

Savitch decided to throw out the 14 ballots, which he ruled were Thomas' votes, based on the evidence.

"He ignored the evidence and the testimony of the mayor and the city clerk," Rosten said afterward. He said the judge also acted improperly in rejecting several defense requests for continuances to respond to evidence.

"The election contest procedure is a whole lot different than a trial, but you still have a right to due process," Rosten said.

Another contentious point concerns cases involving three votes collected by Vincent, either alone or with other campaign workers, that Savitch eventually threw out on the grounds that voters were intimidated and their right to ballot secrecy was violated. Savitch counted the three ballots as Thomas votes and threw them out.

Borenstein made what proved to be an effective tactical decision: When he put Vincent on the stand, he did not question him about those cases. He later said he expected the defense to give Vincent the opportunity to defend his conduct.

But in keeping with their view that the evidence was insufficient, defense lawyers never questioned Vincent about the votes either.

"As the record stood at the end of the trial, the testimony of the witnesses (about Vincent's actions) was unimpeached," Borenstein said. "The only thing (the defense lawyers) could go on was that the judge would not believe the voters who testified."

Savitch apparently believed the voters. He also seemed to agree with Hardeman's attorneys that the mayor's visits influenced the voters.

At one point he asked Stroud how he would be affected if the mayor of Los Angeles came to his door seeking a vote.

Rosten said: "The only sense I can make of (the judge's) ruling is that he felt the mayor's presence amounted to intimidation."

Welcomed Into Homes

Vincent asserts that he was welcomed into homes by people who were excited to meet him--only to have his efforts to "educate" new voters depicted as sinister.

The vote of Vinell Lloyd to some extent symbolizes the debate over Vincent's actions and about the evidence overall. The frail, 75-year-old Lloyd had to be helped to the stand. She gave somewhat rambling answers in a quavering voice.

But she had kept her ballot stub. She was very specific in recalling two men, one of whom she "reckoned" was the mayor, bringing her an absentee ballot. She said she punched the ballot numbers of Thomas and other candidates in front of the men after they supplied candidate ballot numbers to her on a sheet of paper and told her to vote how she wanted. (Vincent said later that he did not "know anything about" the Vinell Lloyd case.)

Was Lloyd credible? And if so, was this an instance of Vincent helping a disadvantaged voter who would otherwise probably not have voted? Or did the mayor take advantage of the aura of his office and Lloyd's vulnerability to chalk up another vote?

Voters in Key Role

At moments like these, the trial turned the voters into starring players. They were mostly black, working class or middle class. As Mayor Vincent has said, in the Deep South of 25 years ago they might have risked their lives by voting. The voters--some poised and well-spoken, others timid and hesitant--testified; Judge Savitch listened.

The defense counterattack largely ignored the voting and focused on the question of whether Hardeman really lived in the 4th District when he filed the suit July 17. The judge said Hardeman was indeed a resident and rejected the request to dismiss the case.

"We were never cocky," Borenstein says of the closing days of the trial, which involved five days of testimony over two weeks. "But we told Garland that we had a shot. We felt pretty good about our position, and even better when the judge allowed us to turn in a brief."

The brief was a 61-page "road map" that laid out the charges against the Thomas campaign. It read, in part: "Prospective voters were browbeaten, pressured and defrauded into voting for a candidate they often knew nothing about . . . the testimony revealed an absentee campaign that was not only rife with the opportunities for fraud, coercion and tampering, but in which such abuses of the election process were affirmatively shown."

Savitch frequently interrupted Stroud and Rosten with questions during their closing arguments, which lasted for several hours. The judge permitted Borenstein a short oral summary, which Borenstein concluded by saying the case presented had been only "the tip of the iceberg."

When Borenstein finished, the judge ruled that more than 16 votes had been illegally cast for Thomas and said he would annul the election, declare Thomas' seat vacant and call for a new election.

FALLOUT

It was only a partial victory. Savitch declined to declare Hardeman the winner, saying a new election would "best serve the interests of the voters," who he hoped would be "free from the ambiguities" of laws concerning absentee voting.

Savitch's written ruling, issued in November, upheld 58 of the 59 separate vote challenges. He found that 31 were illegally cast for Thomas and that evidence was insufficient to determine for whom the rest had been cast. He removed the word coercion as grounds for throwing out 14 ballots, but upheld charges of "intimidation" and "involuntary invasion of the secrecy of the ballot process." Otherwise, he left the language prepared by the winning lawyers virtually intact.

The Inglewood City Council--with Thomas but not Vincent abstaining--voted unanimously to appeal on behalf of the city and city clerk. Stroud also has filed a notice that he will appeal.

Rosten calls Savitch's decision an "emotional reaction" to ambiguities in absentee voting laws and "one of the most adverse things to happen to Inglewood" since Rosten came to the city in 1971. Savitch disregarded a fundamental premise of state law that judges should uphold elections unless there is clear and convincing evidence of wrongdoing, Rosten said.

"He went way beyond his power," Rosten says. "The law imposes a heavy burden and that's why these decisions are exceptionally rare. They only happen in the most abusive cases. This was not such a case. The uncertainty he's created is detrimental to government. Lots of damage has been done, but it's hard to put a price on it."

Rosten predicted more election lawsuits and said the "tragedy" of the ruling is that people will be discouraged from voting for fear of becoming involved in legal fights.

Hardeman and his lawyers celebrated what they called a victory against corruption. But they argue that the law calls for Hardeman to be declared winner. By permitting Thomas to remain in office during an appeal period that could postpone a new election for years, they say the verdict could render the triumph almost meaningless.

"Once he reaches the conclusion that 16 votes were illegal for Thomas, the law is mandatory," Borenstein says, citing Election Code section 20087. It states: "If in any election contest it appears that another person than the defendant has the highest number of legal votes, the court shall declare that person elected."

In his ruling, Savitch said state law gives him discretion.

The state Court of Appeals has rejected Hardeman's emergency request to be declared the winner. A similar request is pending before the state Supreme Court; if it is rejected, the normal appeal process continues.

Borenstein estimates that Hardeman's legal fees would have amounted to almost $100,000 so far. Hardeman says his spending for the election campaigns and expenses incurred during his investigation and suit totals about $30,000.

"It's an unfortunate comment on the system," Borenstein says. "If he hadn't known Fred and Fred hadn't known us, it's inconceivable that he could have done it alone."

Woocher says he hopes the ruling will help restore "the sanctity of the polling place."

"It shed some light on a process that is terribly abused. The Legislature may have to take stronger action on absentee voting to eliminate third parties going into people's houses. If someone comes to your door and persuades you to buy a couch in California, you have 72 hours to reconsider. You can't reconsider your vote."

Ironically, since the June election the five-member council has experienced a period relatively free of the heated controversies of past years.

But Hardeman, an ally of Councilman Scardenzan, is widely seen as the key to a realignment of the council because Thomas is Vincent's remaining solid ally on the council.

Hardeman has declared himself "de facto" councilman; he "votes" from the speakers' podium during council meetings and is working to keep his visibility high in the 4th District. He has drawn the support of a range of Inglewood leaders, including state Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) and Russ Stromberg, president of Centinela Hospital. He dismisses speculation that he might run for mayor in 1990, saying his focus is on the council seat.

"It puts a lot of responsibility on me," Hardeman says of his outspoken role. "I don't think I was looking for it this soon. I was looking to become a councilman and work my way up the ladder. But people's response has made me feel good. Somebody had to test the system."

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