The orange Curtis Tucker signs are appearing on the streets of the 50th Assembly district on schedule.
The Inglewood Democrat died this month, but he is still on the ballot and is the favorite in the Nov. 8 election--just as he was in his past seven Assembly races.
Democratic leaders are working to get Tucker the most votes in the district, which encompasses El Segundo, Inglewood, Lennox, Westchester and parts of South Los Angeles. A Tucker victory in the heavily Democratic district would force a special election next year for the resulting vacancy.
The seat is crucial to the effort by Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) to retain enough votes to remain Assembly speaker. Brown has called for voters to elect Tucker as a tribute to the longtime Inglewood political patriarch--a staunch Brown ally who served 14 years in the Assembly and won reelection repeatedly by commanding margins.
State and local Democratic leaders say voters in the predominantly black and Latino district will support Tucker to help Brown and to ensure Democratic control of Tucker’s seat.
Republican challenger Mike Davis indicated that he resents the attention focused on possible contenders in a special election. Several of the four write-in candidates who entered the race this week said they feel the same way.
“I was completely ignored in the primary,” said Davis, 34, an Inglewood business consultant. “Since the assemblyman’s death, the focus has been on comments by spin doctors, people speculating on who has the best chances in a special election. . . I’ve heard a lot of quotes from so-called political leaders who say I don’t have a chance. But that hasn’t been based on anything but emotion, not contact with the voters.”
There will be no special election if Davis or one of the write-in candidates wins. A spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office said no one has ever won a seat in the Legislature posthumously.
Davis, who has law degrees from Howard University and the University of Brussels in Belgium, describes himself as a moderate Republican. He promises to fight crime and improve education and economic opportunities in the district by forging partnerships between the economically depressed areas on the east and more affluent communities to the west.
Davis hopes to combine support in traditionally Republican El Segundo and Westchester with an appeal to blacks in Inglewood and Los Angeles to consider him as a viable, qualified candidate. To bolster that appeal, he has said he will continue many of Tucker’s policies and would place his constituents’ wishes foremost in an Assembly vote on Brown’s speakership.
According to Davis, a recent poll conducted by his campaign shows that a growing number of Democrats are willing to vote for him to put someone in the seat, which could be vacant for another four or five months if a special election is necessary.
If Davis is elected, he would be the first black GOP assemblyman in 50 years.
But Tucker supporters say district voters will not help Davis make history.
“The Republicans could spend $500,000 and Tucker would win,” said campaign consultant Parke Skelton, who is running the Tucker campaign.
"(The voters) won’t just be blindly voting, they’ll be voting with great intelligence and strategy. It’s a tactical decision to vote for someone who will be replaced later with a Democrat.”
Skelton said the low-key Tucker campaign will concentrate on contacting voters by phone in the last days of the campaign. He said the campaign will spend about $20,000 and said he does not expect to send out mailers separate from the slate mailer sent out by the Democratic Party, though Davis said he believes the Tucker campaign will be forced to do so as Democrats realize the Republican’s challenge is serious.
Davis acknowledged that Republican leaders in the Assembly believe his campaign is too much of a long shot to warrant much financial support. He had raised less than $5,000 as of the last reporting period for campaign spending, but said: “I will have enough finances to wage a serious campaign.”
Davis questions the legality of expenditures by the Tucker campaign and other Democrats in the 50th district race, saying campaign funds cannot be expended on Tucker’s behalf after his death. He said Thursday he plans to seek an injunction to block spending on Tucker’s behalf.
If there is a special election, several local Democrats have expressed interest in running, including Inglewood Mayor Edward Vincent, Inglewood Councilman Daniel Tabor, Inglewood school board member Lois Hill-Hale and Los Angeles Councilman Robert Farrell.
Speaker Brown, however, has stated that he will support Curtis Tucker Jr., the late Assemblyman’s son and an aide to Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles), in a special election.
Some write-in candidates in the Nov. 8 election criticized what they said appears to be a notion among Democratic leaders that the younger Tucker is entitled to the seat.
“If I believed seats were awarded like a royal coronation, I would be doing something else,” said Roderick Wright, an Inglewood political consultant who is the most well-known and politically experienced of the four write-in candidates. “I’ve never seen it written that that will happen, and I’ve never seen it work.”
The other write-in candidates are Frank Wong, 56, a retired El Segundo engineer; Andra Higgs, 26, a law clerk and journalist from South Los Angeles, and Carl McGill, 29, of Inglewood, a Los Angeles police officer. They all say they are Democrats.
The ballot provides a space for voters to fill in the name of a write-in candidate who has qualified with county election officials. To qualify as a write-in candidate, each was required to submit at least 40 signatures of registered voters in the district.
Some Democrats have warned that write-in bids could confuse voters and even lead to an upset victory for Davis. Others, including Tucker campaign consultant Skelton, feel that write-in campaigns are so difficult to mount that they will not be a factor.
‘As Good a Chance as Anyone’
Wright, who said he hopes to spend as much as $15,000 on his effort, acknowledges that his bid is intended to increase name recognition in preparation for a special-election candidacy. He said he would not be running if he felt he could endanger Democrats’ chances of retaining the seat. And he said he will seek the backing of the state Democratic leadership in a special election, despite Brown’s statements of support for the younger Tucker.
“I think I have as good a chance as anyone else for an endorsement,” Wright said. “I don’t think I’m harming my chances. As a person who has never run for office, I’m making a demonstration of viability (as a write-in).”
Wright has worked on many political campaigns in the black community, including those of presidential candidate Jesse Jackson and the municipal campaigns of Farrell, Tabor and Vincent. In addition to his political consulting business, Wright works as a government affairs analyst for the Southern California Assn. of Governments. He says the 50th District issues that need more attention at the state level are crime, gang activity and job creation.
Wright’s involvement in a bitter 1985 City Council campaign in Compton resulted in his indictment on three felony counts of election fraud. The case was settled when Wright pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of mailing a deceptive notice to voters and received probation and a $2,500 fine.
Wright said he feels he did nothing dishonest.
“It becomes a question of tactics,” he said. “There are a couple of things I would have done differently. I hope to never be in such a bitter and divisive campaign again.”
Wong, a retired engineer for Hughes Aircraft, said he is running because he believes people should get involved in politics and he wants to serve the community. Wong ran for the Democratic nomination in the heavily Republican 29th State Senate district in June, losing to Jack Hachmeister.
Noting that potential candidates have expressed hopes for a special election, Wong said: “My feeling is that if the other candidates were serious, they would have gone down and filed papers as write-ins. If the Republican sneaks in, that will be the decision of the people and the responsibility of the Democratic Party.”
Higgs, a part-time journalist and law clerk, said he feels that many voters share his dissatisfaction with the declared and potential Assembly candidates.
“I was utterly disappointed with the choices there were,” he said. “If for no other reason, I want to give people another option.”
McGill, a Los Angeles police officer, could not be reached for comment.