Assemblywoman Gwen Moore could be facing the prospect of legal problems over an FBI probe of her office in Sacramento, but don’t look for that to hinder her chances of being easily reelected to her 49th District seat.
The popular five-term legislator is expected to handily defeat Republican Eric Givens in the predominantly Democratic district on Nov. 8. Moore said the voters are more concerned about her achievements than about the FBI investigation.
“I’m not overly concerned because I feel that I have represented the district well, and I think people will vote for me on the basis of my record,” said Moore, 44. “I would match my record against anyone else’s.”
Moore (D-Los Angeles) has a reputation for running low-key campaigns.
But this year’s race is not like the others. This year, Moore is one of four Los Angeles-area lawmakers under investigation in connection with a three-year FBI probe into special-interest legislation in which bills were approved for two dummy corporations set up by federal investigators.
Moore carried the bills on behalf of the two bogus companies, but she denied any wrongdoing while speaking about the FBI sting last week. Moore said voters should remember that she has not been charged with anything.
“This is America,” Moore said in a brief telephone interview that took place after aides initially said she would probably refuse to answer questions about her campaign. “And there have been no charges and no allegations. There is an investigation, and I am cooperating fully and providing whatever information or data is required.”
To no one’s surprise, Moore’s opponent is trying to turn the probe to his advantage. In a press release last week, Givens charged that Moore has been too busy representing “out-of-state phony businesses” to pay serious attention to the district, and he called for the assemblywoman to step down.
“Gwen Moore is insulting the district by not responding to these charges,” Givens said. “She’s looking out for her own self-interests.”
Givens, however, has had his own problems in his campaign for the district, which includes parts of Venice, Marina del Rey, Culver City, Mar Vista, Ladera Heights, View Park, Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw, Playa del Rey and Westchester.
When he first ran for the seat in 1986, Givens’ campaign sputtered along so slowly that observers questioned whether he was running for the job or away from it. In one instance, he refused to discuss the race with the media.
This year, the 31-year-old Givens says he is trying to build on the 20% of the vote that he captured in 1986. But there are already signs of trouble for the Republican challenger in the district, which is more than 70% Democratic.
He has collected less than $2,000 for the race so far. And his own car even seemed to conspire against him last week as it broke down and left Givens stranded on a day when he had invited the press to his office for interviews.
Givens said he is not dissuaded by the odds or by his past experiences.
“In 1986, I felt like I was walking into the lion’s den,” Givens said. “But I don’t feel that way now. I feel that I’m getting my message across.”
Givens is telling voters in appearances before community groups and in door-to-door stops that he favors pay increases for teachers and new schools to alleviate overcrowding. He also supports legislation aimed at making parents more responsible for children who become involved with gangs.
Asked for Support
In addition, Givens says he would strengthen penalties for violations of drug laws. And he supports various measures to protect the environment.
Givens says he has asked local Republican officials for support. But there seems to be none forthcoming. George Thomas Jr., the GOP chairman for the 49th Assembly District, said he hasn’t spoken to Givens recently.
Thomas said that Givens is seen as an intelligent person with a bright future in GOP politics, but he added that there is no Republican money available for campaigns as difficult as his. Robert Whitmore of the county GOP agreed.
“There’s not enough money to go around,” Whitmore said. “It’s not because of anything about Givens. He’s a very attractive fellow, and he’s smart as a whip. It’s just a fact of life that the money is not there to give him.”
Moore, meanwhile, can apparently get by without a lot of campaign money or publicity. The assemblywoman has never been a headline grabber or a major fund-raiser (she reports having just $33,000 on hand on her latest campaign statement). But as chairwoman of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee, she has played a key role in controlling utility rates.
Has Been Responsive
Moore also carried legislation this year that outlaws membership in gangs that engage in illegal activities. Another bill of hers, which was vetoed by Gov. George Deukmejian, would have established a hot line for parents to call to get updates on how their children are doing in school.
People who are active in the 49th District say Moore’s office has always been responsive to their calls for assistance. Most said they don’t see much of a race in the area, which includes wealthy and disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Ronni Cooper, president of the Ladera Heights Civic Assn., which has about 550 members, said she has heard little from either candidate. However, Cooper added that Moore remains popular with homeowners in the area.
“She has always been very responsive when we called on her for help,” Cooper said. “From my point of view, you can’t ask anyone to be more responsive to their community. I don’t care what the FBI does. I’d still vote for her.”
Joseph Gardner of the Baldwin Hills Estates Homeowners Assn. said he also knows of no dissatisfaction with Moore. “I would assume most of the community is waiting for the fallout (from the FBI probe),” Gardner said. “I haven’t heard of anything in our community that would detract from her popularity.”
“I don’t see this as being a big thing,” added Ozie Hunt, a Crenshaw-area activist who was an aide to former Los Angeles Councilwoman Pat Russell. “Her office is open, and I don’t see any indictments coming down.”
Sal Grammatico, who heads a large umbrella organization for groups in Moore’s district called the Coalition of Concerned Communities, agreed that Moore’s popularity is unaffected. “I think she’s pretty well locked in,” he said.
Even Givens concedes that he may have to try again in 1990.
“I’m running because I think there’s a shot,” he said. “I knew I’d lose to her once. But I plan to run at least three times.”