For the last eight years, Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally has represented one of the most solidly Democratic bastions in the South Bay. So, it’s no surprise that the veteran congressman is all but assured of winning reelection this fall.
Even Dymally’s opponents concede that the former lieutenant governor and state lawmaker is the heavy favorite to win a fifth term in the House of Representatives from the 31st Congressional District.
The working-class area, crisscrossed by the San Diego, Harbor and Artesia freeways, has some of the most traditionally Democratic precincts in Los Angeles County. That explains why Dymally--whose 71% landslide victory two years ago matched the Democratic registration--has spent little time at home campaigning.
There have been no face-to-face debates between the Compton congressman and Republican challenger Arnold C. May, a Bellflower printer, or Peace and Freedom Party candidate B. Kwaku Duren, a paralegal and community activist, and none are planned.
Dymally’s opponents charge that he has done little in Congress to help deal with the chronic problems of poverty, unemployment, drugs, crime and gang violence that plague much of the district.
The racially diverse area includes the communities of Hawthorne, Gardena, Carson and Harbor Gateway in the South Bay, and Compton, Lynwood, Paramount and Bellflower in the Southeast area.
“The greatest issue is a lack of representation,” May said. “I feel we have just been totally abandoned. We have a right to have someone in Washington representing us.”
Duren charged that Dymally is “not really accessible or concerned about the problems working people are concerned about.”
Dymally, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, dismisses such criticism. “I’m visible, relevant, committed and, I might add, damn good,” he said.
As he has done since being elected to Congress in 1980, the 62-year-old lawmaker said his performance cannot be measured in terms of federal dollars brought to the district because President Reagan cut financing for social programs that benefit inner-city areas. “These eight years have been very difficult ones for urban districts,” Dymally said.
“It’s a very serious dilemma. How do you get help for your constituents?” he asked. “You have to measure the worth of a congressman in the context of the Administration’s cuts in services.”
Though Dymally has authored few pieces of legislation to address the crime, drugs, unemployment and gang problems of the district, he said he has obtained federal funds for Southwest and Compton community colleges and established a scholarship fund for minority students interested in science and math.
His domestic priorities include statehood for the District of Columbia and efforts to ensure that the 1990 Census does not under-count minorities, which would deny them political representation and federal assistance.
Dymally said that “drug abuse is a problem we have to deal with.” But he criticized the major drug bill passed by the House of Representatives last month to crack down on people who buy and sell illegal drugs.
He said: “Conservatives messed up a very good bill” by adding provisions that would extend the death penalty to murder cases involving major drug dealers and provide law enforcement agencies with expanded search and seizure power. The bill faces opposition in the Senate because of those provisions.
Dymally did not vote on the measure, which passed on a 375-30 vote, because he was in Jamaica surveying damage caused by Hurricane Gilbert.
As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Dymally has devoted a considerable amount of time to foreign policy, particularly issues affecting Third World countries.
“I have an obligation as a Third World person. I make no excuses,” Dymally said. “I do have a very keen interest in the Third World. We do not live in just 50 states. We contribute significant sums of taxpayer money in the Third World.”
He is an outspoken opponent of U.S. involvement in Central America, a critic of U.S. ties to South Africa and has called for creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank.
Lobbied for Jobs
Dymally also said he has lobbied the Japanese to provide job and investment opportunities for blacks and Latinos in their U.S. operations. He recently won an apology from the Japanese government after an official made derogatory remarks about American blacks.
As a Foreign Affairs Committee member, Dymally has traveled extensively at taxpayer expense to the Far East, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the Caribbean.
For example, House records show the taxpayers spent $19,656 for Dymally’s six overseas trips between April, 1987, and April, 1988, to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and the People’s Republic of China; France and England; Ethiopia and Angola; Zaire, Belgium, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and two trips to the Caribbean, including one to his native Trinidad.
“It’s irresponsible to be a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and not know what is going on around the world,” Dymally said.
At home and abroad, Dymally flies first-class to ease “the wear and tear on your body” from extensive traveling.
House records show that taxpayers spent $19,518 for Dymally to travel between Washington and Los Angeles in the first six months of this year, almost all of it first-class on commercial airlines.
Each trip costs up to $1,716 round-trip, according to House records. That is nearly five times more than the $376 that it costs Rep. Glenn M. Anderson (D-Harbor City), who flies coach between Washington and his South Bay district.
During his first two years in Congress, Dymally said, he flew coach between Washington and Los Angeles but “got no medals for it. . . . Your knee up to your chin is no easy ordeal. It’s murder,” Dymally said. “Members of Congress deserve to fly first-class.”
Dymally’s long political career began more than a quarter century ago when he was elected to the state Assembly in 1962.
After serving in the state Senate, he became the highest ranking black official in California when he was elected lieutenant governor in 1974.
He lost a reelection campaign to Republican Mike Curb in 1978, but went on to win his congressional seat in 1980.
In 1985, Dymally was instrumental in arranging a $100,000 grant from the Japanese Whaling Assn. to Shaw University, a black college in Raleigh, N.C., Dymally said in a recent interview. He was a trustee of the college at that time and had supported Japanese whalers in their opposition to an international ban on whaling.
For more than two years, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Raleigh has been investigating the financial affairs of the university, though Assistant U.S. Atty. John S. Bruce said last week that no indictments have been returned.
A contract between the Japanese Whaling Assn. and the university specified that the grant was to be used for research on whales. Stories published in the News and Observer, a Raleigh newspaper, reported that some of the money was used to write paychecks for a Dymally aide who also worked part time for the college and for the Caribbean-American Research Institute, a nonprofit corporation based in Washington. Dymally is chairman of the institute.
Dymally said there was “no illegality, no unethical behavior” in connection with the grant, the university, or the research institute.
‘Victim of Southern Justice’
“In politics,” he said, “no good deed goes unpunished.”
Dymally said he is a victim of “Southern justice” because he came to the aid of a struggling black university.
“In the South, if you are black and happen to offend the white Establishment, the answer is to convene a grand jury,” Dymally said. “I am the victim of injustice. I tried to save a black school, and the white folks went after me.”
Dymally’s campaign finance report shows that he raised $152,617 in the first half of this year, but spent $147,301 on primary campaign events, printing, mailing, entertainment and travel, leaving just $4,881 in cash on hand in his campaign treasury at the end of June.
He also reported $9,400 in campaign debts, including $5,000 borrowed June 17 from a San Jose bank. On the same day, Dymally donated the same amount to his former aide, Willard Murray. Murray is running for the Assembly in the 54th District, which overlaps the eastern half of Dymally’s congressional district.
Among Dymally’s major contributors are political action committees representing postal workers and letter carriers, which provided $5,500, and United Parcel Service, which donated $3,000 to Dymally, a member of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee.
Other labor unions, representing teachers, carpenters, seafarers, garment workers, laborers, auto workers and state and municipal employees contributed to his campaign.
Major defense contractors--Rockwell International, Lockheed, Hughes Aircraft--made contributions of $1,000 or less. Sony, Mercury Savings and Occidental Petroleum made donations of $1,500 to $3,000.
Former Republican Rep. Paul N. McCloskey Jr. of Woodside donated $250.
Dymally said he and McCloskey are “old friends.”
Dymally and McCloskey are considered mavericks. McCloskey, a former Marine officer, was an early opponent of the Vietnam War. Dymally called for President Reagan’s impeachment because of the invasion of Grenada.
Both were among five congressmen who traveled to Beirut in July, 1982, and met with Yasser Arafat, chief of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who announced that he was willing to abide by United Nations resolutions on the Palestinian question.
Arafat’s statements were seen at the time as possibly implying a readiness to accept the existence of Israel. But the United States rejected the PLO leader’s statement as inadequate.
Dymally was one of nine Democratic House members last year who opposed legislation to force PLO offices to close in New York and Washington. “You cannot solve a problem (in the Middle East) without discussion,” he said. The Reagan Administration’s attempt to close the office was “overkill,” he said.
Dymally remains sensitive about published reports suggesting that he is sympathetic to the PLO. He reported that the Arab American Institute and Palestine Aid Society, among other groups, paid for some travel-related expenses in 1987.
“I am a strong supporter of Israel,” he said, “but I support Palestinian self-determination,” including establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank.
On other issues, the Compton congressman often stakes out a lonely position. “I do not seek to be popular,” he said. “I seek to be right.”
Dymally was one of only three members of the House of Representatives who voted in early August against the impeachment of U.S. District Judge Alcee L. Hastings of Miami.
Hastings was impeached on charges of “high crimes and misdemeanors” and was ordered to stand trial in the Senate next year on bribery and perjury charges.
A federal court jury in 1983 acquitted Hastings of conspiring to accept a bribe in return for favorable treatment of two defendants in his court.
Hastings was impeached by a vote of 413 to 3 after Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, told the House that a new investigation found “damning evidence” that Hastings lied at his trial and plotted to receive a $150,000 bribe.
No one spoke in the judge’s defense during the House debate. Dymally said in an interview later that he voted against impeachment because Hastings was being subjected to “double jeopardy” after being acquitted of the charges.
Dymally also is an outspoken opponent of U.S. policy in Central America and says the U.S. government is on the wrong side in Nicaragua.
He opposes aid to the Contras, and has been a fund-raiser for the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. That group, known as CISPES, was the target of a nationwide FBI surveillance program that led to disciplinary action last month against six FBI officials.
On African issues, he has been an ardent opponent of South Africa’s policy of racial apartheid. But he parts company with many of his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus and opposes a cutoff in American military and economic aid to the government of Zaire.
Dymally’s positions have earned him consistently high ratings from liberal groups and organized labor and rock-bottom ratings from conservatives.
The AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education said Dymally scored a 94 on last year’s votes on such issues as trade, jobs, worker safety, housing, civil rights and welfare reform.
The liberal Americans for Democratic Action gave Dymally an 84 for his 1987 votes on foreign and domestic policy issues.
By contrast, the American Conservative Union gave Dymally a zero rating for his votes last year against Contra aid, the Strategic Defense Initiative, for abortion, Medicare expansion, welfare reform and the trade bill.
So did the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which objected to all of Dymally’s votes on 15 measures, including his opposition to attempts to cut federal spending and require lie detector tests of workers.
Dymally’s stands anger Republican challenger May who says Dymally would be defeated if voters knew how he voted in Congress.
The 37-year-old printer and Vietnam veteran said the district has one of the worst drug-abuse problems in the nation, and “we have a congressman that doesn’t help them.” May specifically objected to Dymally’s failure to vote on the drug bill.
May admits that he faces a hard fight against an entrenched incumbent. “It won’t be easy,” he said. “It is a long shot.”
Despite the odds, May said he decided to run for Congress because “things are not getting any better. I couldn’t just sit down and preach at the dinner table. I got involved in politics.”
Republicans elected him to the 54th Assembly District Republican Central Committee in June, 1986. He was later appointed by Assemblyman Paul E. Zeltner (R-Lakewood) to the state GOP Central Committee.
So far, May said he has raised about $5,000 for the congressional race.
He is upset that Dymally recently used his mailing privileges to send a letter to every household in the district urging residents to register to vote. The taxpayer-financed mass mailing, which arrived last month, included a reply-postcard addressed to Dymally’s district office.
“It’s just an advertisement,” May said. “It obviously is to put his name in front of the voters just before an election.”
Dymally defended the mailing as “legal and ethical.”
May supports Vice President George Bush and is a supporter of research and development of Reagan’s SDI or “Star Wars” nuclear defense system. He supports defense spending, saying “defense equates out to jobs” in the district’s aerospace plants.
He favors U.S. aid to the Contras in Central America. Although he opposes South African apartheid policy, he said he does not believe economic sanctions can work.
The GOP candidate favors a constitutional amendment banning abortion and wants the courts to order child support and medical benefits from fathers who abandon children born out of wedlock. He believes welfare should be “a stopgap” in time of need, not a permanent life style.
Peace and Freedom Party candidate Duren is making his second run against Dymally after an unsuccessful bid two years ago. Although he lives outside the congressional district boundaries in Long Beach, Duren said that residence is only temporary. Congressional candidates are only required to live within the state from which they are elected.
A former head of the Black Panther Party in Southern California, Duren is running for vice president on the New Alliance third party ticket in California.
The 45-year-old paralegal with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles said he is also running for Congress because he disagrees with Dymally on some domestic and foreign policy matters. He said the incumbent shows “very little concern” about the crime, drug, gang and unemployment problems in the district.
Duren blames “wrong social and economic policy” for the problems of the district and said the drug abuse problem will not be solved until there are meaningful jobs and training for the district’s poor residents. He supports rent control and efforts to force banks to reinvest in inner-city neighborhoods.
In foreign affairs, Duren supports the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, opposes Contra aid, and sharply differs with Dymally, who supports U.S. aid to Zaire.
THE CANDIDATES Mervyn Dymally--"You have to measure the worth of a congressman in the context of the Administration’s cuts in services.” Arnold May--"The greatest issue is a lack of representation. I feel we have just been totally abandoned.” B. Kwaku Duren--(Dymally) is “not really accessible or concerned about the problems working people are concerned about.” A PROFILE OF THE 31ST DISTRICT Voting Age Population--1980
White: 39% Black: 31% Latino: 21% Asian: 8% American Indian: 1% Communities Hawthorne, Gardena, Carson, Compton, Lynwood, Paramount, Bellflower, South Central Los Angeles, Harbor Gateway Candidates Democrat: Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally, incumbent Republican: Arnold C. May, Bellflower printer Peace and Freedom: B. Kwaku Duren, community activist Party Registration, 1988
Democrat 157,099 71.3% Republican 43,921 19.9% Independents 14,381 6.5% American Independent 2,393 1.1% Libertarian 654 .3% Peace and Freedom 1,488 .7% Other Parties 361 .2% Total 220,297 100.0%
White 221,340 42.1% Black 178,102 33.9% Asian 41,240 7.8% Other 85,257 16.2% Total 525,939 100.0%
Sources: U.S. Census, Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder