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50th District Candidates Focus Debate on Tucker

Times Staff Writer

As befits a special election expected to draw a low voter turnout, the small crowd that turned out for a candidate forum in Inglewood last week was dominated by political insiders.

About 50 people, many of them campaign workers and former or future candidates for various offices, watched the debate among the 50th Assembly District candidates: Republican Mike Davis and Democrats Lois Hill-Hale, Carl McGill, and Curtis Tucker Jr. The four are seeking to fill the seat of Curtis Tucker, who died in October.

The forum, organized by the Inglewood/Airport Chamber of Commerce, was one of the few opportunities voters will have to see the candidates before the special election on Feb. 7.

As expected, the focus at Thursday’s debate was on Tucker, considered the favorite because of the financial and political support he has attracted from top Democrats, most notably Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco). As of the last campaign reporting date, Tucker had raised more than $48,000; none of his opponents had raised more than $1,000.

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Tucker’s foes hammered at the issue of leadership. Their hopes for an upset appear to rest on persuading voters that Tucker’s main qualification is his name and that Brown is condemning the district to ineffective leadership controlled by outside forces.

Tucker’s Position

Tucker, a legislative aide to Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles), said he is the most qualified candidate to carry on the policies of his father. He said his connections to the Democratic leadership will help him get things done in Sacramento.

Another major issue was the death penalty, which Tucker supports and Hill-Hale opposes.

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Candidates also discussed health care, crime, education, economic development and ethnic relations, all pressing issues in the district, which encompasses El Segundo, Inglewood, Lennox, Westchester and parts of South Los Angeles.

Although Davis, a Republican, has sought the Assembly seat twice without success, most recently when the elder Tucker won a posthumous victory in November, Tucker’s strategists see him as potentially the strongest challenger to Tucker. Candidates, their strategists and elected officials predict that as few as 26,000 of the largely Democratic district’s 147,520 registered voters will cast ballots. That means conservatives in largely Republican El Segundo and Westchester, who tend to vote more consistently, could form a disproportionate part of the electorate and boost Davis’ chances.

If no one wins more than 50% of the vote Feb. 7, the top Democrat will face Davis in an April runoff.

Davis, a business consultant, described himself as the candidate who can best serve as a “bridge” between the more affluent western part of the district and the economically depressed eastern sections.

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“One common sociological thread does not exist,” Davis said. “You have to get out into the different communities and hear the constituents. I’m the man who can do it.”

Davis calls himself a moderate Republican. For example, he said, California should adopt a universal health insurance plan similar to that set up in Massachusetts by the former Democratic presidential candidate, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.

Hill-Hale, an Inglewood school board member who appears to be Tucker’s toughest Democratic competition, emphasized that she is the only elected official in the race and worked eight years as chief deputy to Sen. Diane Watson. (D-Los Angeles). Watson has joined other Democrats endorsing Tucker, though Hill-Hale calls that a result of pressure by Brown.

Hill-Hale said she would be a “fresh new start” for the district and lambasted Tucker as a tool of “fat cats in Sacramento.” On the question of shrinking availability of emergency health care, especially to low-income constituents, she claimed that the elder Tucker respected her as a health expert. She pledged to work for increased state funding for health care and to be “eternally vigilant” against racism.

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Clash on Death Penalty

Hill-Hale also attacked Tucker on the death penalty, which she opposes because she claims it is disproportionately applied to minorities. She called Tucker’s statements that it is cheaper to execute criminals than pay for them to stay on Death Row “elitist and cavalier.”

Tucker accused Hill-Hale of misrepresenting his statements and reiterated his position that some of the money paying to house Death Row inmates could go to health care or education.

“I believe in capital punishment for specific crimes,” he said. “It costs more to keep a man on Death Row for a year than it does to send a kid to Harvard. . . . There’s not much chance to rehabilitate a mass murderer.”

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Tucker also said criticism of his allegiance to Brown is a diversionary tactic.

“He’s the most powerful man in the state,” Tucker said. “In order to get anything done, you have to work with him, not against him.”

McGill, a Los Angeles police officer and recognized gang expert, is a political newcomer who admits to lacking funds. He claimed grass-roots support and commitment to law enforcement, especially his efforts to educate the community about gang violence. McGill also sounded the most repeated and passionate attack on Tucker and the Democratic leadership, whom he blames for neglecting the district and allowing problems of crime, unemployment and drugs to fester.

“There are brothers out there who need jobs,” McGill said. “There are sisters selling their bodies on Figueroa (Street). I’m sick of seeing kids die in the streets. . . . The community has suffered a great deal because it has not had proper representation.”

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THE CANDIDATES Curtis Tucker Jr., Considered the favorite because of support he has drawn from top Democrats.

Mike Davis, Conservatives, who tend to vote more consistently, could boost the chances for Davis, a Republican.

Lois Hill-Hale, The Inglewood school board member emphasizes that she is the only elected official in the race.

Carl McGill, The Los Angeles police officer, who is an expert on gangs, is a political newcomer.

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