The 1st City Council District is Inglewood’s political heart and soul.
Attractive homes, upscale condominium complexes and well-attended churches dominate the east Inglewood area. It is home to a politically active black middle class and to several of the area’s elected officials.
Since 1981, the voice of this community on the City Council has been Daniel Tabor, who is up for reelection April 4.
Danny, as he is universally known, charged onto the city’s political scene at age 25 by defeating incumbent Andrew Isaacs. Tabor was the quintessential boy wonder--personable, smooth, ambitious. A 1986 California Journal article on black politics named him one of five up-and-coming black politicians in the state.
Last year, Tabor, 33, gambled his future. He challenged a political Goliath, 50th District Assemblyman Curtis Tucker (D-Inglewood), in the June Democratic primary. Some thought he expected to lose while establishing himself as Tucker’s heir apparent by making a good showing, but Tabor received only 20% of the vote.
Tucker, a former 1st District councilman, vowed revenge when Tabor sought reelection.
Tucker died four months later, and his son, Curtis Jr., won his Assembly seat in a special election in February. Now John Gibbs, the late assemblyman’s son-in-law and former aide, leads four council candidates who accuse Tabor of neglecting the nuts and bolts of constituent services for the glitter of his ambitions.
“They used to talk about Danny being a rising star,” said Gibbs, 32, in a recent interview. “Well, I say he’s a shooting star. He’s in trouble.”
The other challengers are community activist and graphic artist Leroy Fisher, 49; former Councilman Isaacs, 66, a retired county health inspector; and Tyrone Smith, 32, a businessman and block club captain. To win, a candidate must get more than 50% of the vote; otherwise the top two vote-getters will meet in a runoff in June.
Gibbs has fielded the most aggressive campaign, blanketing the district with signs and campaigning at churches and door to door. As of the March 18 campaign-spending disclosure date, Gibbs had raised $12,715 to Tabor’s $6,555.
Although Gibbs says there is no family vendetta against Tabor, Assemblyman Curtis Tucker Jr. sent out a mailer in early March urging voters to support Gibbs as part of “our team.”
Despite the all-out attack, Tabor, a project coordinator for the United Way, claims to be the front-runner.
“I’m definitely the leader,” said Tabor, who grew up in the district and expects name recognition to offset Gibbs’ fund-raising lead. “I don’t see a groundswell for John Gibbs. People don’t know who he is or what he’s done . . . (but) I’m taking him very seriously.”
As with most incumbents, the central issue is Tabor.
Grab Bag of Causes
His opponents say he personifies style over substance. They accuse him of devoting his time to a grab bag of causes--the Assembly bid, a protest at a nuclear test site in Las Vegas, a boycott of CBS over minority hiring--instead of returning phone calls and otherwise tending to less glamorous district matters.
“All I hear from him is pontificating,” Gibbs said. “He should worry about District 1, not Nevada and Washington. He’s been neglecting the basic needs of the district.”
One issue the challengers have keyed on is a controversy over Joshua’s, an upscale nightspot on Manchester Boulevard hit by city and state legal action for licensing, parking, noise and other problems. Tabor’s opponents and neighbors of the club accuse the councilman of failing to anticipate the problems and point to his acknowledged friendship with one of the club’s owners and brief involvement with him in another short-lived business venture.
Inglewood’s city attorney last year agreed with Tabor’s statements that his votes involving the club did not create a conflict of interest, but even Tabor allies concede that the issue has hurt him.
Tabor denies being inaccessible to constituents. “I average 30 calls a day,” he said. “I call people back as quickly and as often as I can.”
Tabor’s activism on social issues--usually black-oriented ones--outside Inglewood sets him apart from his more traditional council colleagues, but Tabor said voters realize that such issues affect them.
“My constituents happen to like it,” he said. “They see the connections.”
For example, Tabor justified the Las Vegas protest by saying that some of the money spent on national defense could be used better to create jobs in Los Angeles County.
Among his achievements, Tabor cites his sponsorship of an Inglewood policy requiring city contractors to pursue affirmative-action hiring and subcontracting goals; a city ordinance requiring signs where liquor is sold, warning of the dangers of alcohol during pregnancy; and his work on increasing opportunity for minorities through programs such as the city’s small-business consultant service and a procurement conference last year linking corporations and small businesses.
Gibbs says he doesn’t see results. He says most downtown Inglewood businesses are owned by Asians, not blacks, and that residents want upscale retail stores that Inglewood lacks.
Gibbs says he will bring five years of experience as a field representative for the 50th District Assembly office to such issues and help constituents cut through government red tape.
“I was dealing with day-to-day constituent problems,” Gibbs said, referring to his work for the late Tucker. “I was the assemblyman’s right arm when he wasn’t in town.”
Tabor questioned Gibbs’ importance on Tucker’s staff, describing Gibbs as an opportunist riding the coattails of the Tucker family. Tabor noted that the younger Tucker did not retain Gibbs on his staff after becoming assemblyman in February.
Tabor said: “If John was so important, why didn’t his brother-in-law hire him? He was low man on the totem pole. He was on the staff because he was Tucker’s son-in-law.”
In an interview last month, Assemblyman Tucker said he supports Gibbs’ candidacy. He said he did not hire Gibbs because he wanted to “bring in my own team” and did not want family members on his staff.
Gibbs is backed by the political action committee of the staff of Centinela Hospital Medical Center, a powerful local institution whose administrators are angry at Tabor and other councilmen for approving a proposed psychiatric treatment center next to the hospital. Gibbs has received $2,500 from the Centinela doctors’ PAC, records show.
Mayor Edward Vincent has not made an endorsement, but he said in an interview several weeks ago that he was disappointed in Tabor and said Gibbs could make a good councilman.
Records show that Tabor has received $1,000 from Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Los Angeles), whose congressional district includes part of Inglewood. Tabor has also been endorsed by state Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles).
Gibbs and Tabor agree on one point: that highly paid administrators who do not live in the city wield too much power. Both candidates favor expanding the duties and salaries of council members, possibly by making their jobs full time. Council members currently are part-time officials who meet once a week and are paid $400 a month.
Although Gibbs and Tabor lead in fund raising, the other candidates are campaigning industriously.
Isaacs, who served on the council from 1973 to 1981, claims he has the most experience. He also cites his work as a Los Angeles County health official and a collections supervisor for Western Waste Industries, which holds Inglewood’s refuse contract. Isaacs could gain support particularly among longtime residents and residents of Briarwood, the large condominium complex where he lives.
Isaacs has dubbed Tabor the “flip-flop” councilman, saying of his Assembly bid: “You don’t run for higher office when your own house isn’t in order.”
If elected, Isaacs said, he plans to devote more time to “the little things” such as pothole repair, and promises to work to lower Inglewood’s 10% tax on utilities.
As of the last reporting date, Isaacs had raised a war chest of $3,049.
Block Club Chief
Smith, a newcomer to city politics, is a real estate agent and president of the 10th Avenue block club, the district’s biggest residents group. He says he wants to “open the lines of communication” and “bring government back to the people.”
“What’s experience if there’s no common sense?” Smith said.
Smith said Tabor erred when he voted recently to appeal to the state Supreme Court the annulment of a 1987 City Council election.
“I would have spent the money on a new election,” Smith said.
Smith reported raising $3,830.
Led Ballot Drive
Fisher, a longtime activist on city and school issues, frequently speaks at council meetings on matters including crime and overdevelopment. He led a successful campaign against Proposition 1, a 1987 ballot initiative that would have made Inglewood’s part-time mayor a full-time official at four times the current $10,800 annual salary. Fisher also founded the United Democratic Club of Inglewood.
He criticized Gibbs and Tabor for wanting to make the council job full time, accusing them of pushing the issue for personal financial gain. He described himself as the only non-politician in the race.
Fisher, who filed a campaign statement indicating that he does not plan to raise more than $1,000, said: “I’m running because I’m honest and forthright, and I would stand up for what I believe.”