Two days remain before the City Council election, and so far two candidates' tires have been slashed, the mayor has filed a multimillion-dollar libel and slander suit against two challengers and a fellow councilman, and challenger Margaret Araujo's cat and puppy apparently have been poisoned.
"This has been one heck of a mess," a frazzled Araujo said.
Araujo is one of four candidates battling for two council seats on the ballot. She and elementary school principal Louis Byrd are hoping to unseat incumbents Mayor Robert Henning and Councilman Louis J. Heine.
Henning has been on the council for two terms and is trying to hold on to a seat he won by only two votes in the last election. Heine, 73, the only Anglo council member, faces the growing political power, and some say discontent, of a mostly Latino and black constituency. He is seeking his second term.
The campaign has been one of the most vicious in recent memory, residents say. Araujo said that since she announced her candidacy, the tires on her car and her husband's trucks have been punctured. One morning, she said, she found both her cat and her puppy dead. She believes they were poisoned. Byrd also said his tires have been punctured as were those of a visiting nephew.
Heine said some of his campaign signs have been torn down, and Henning has been targeted with several hard-hitting flyers, prompting him to file a lawsuit against his opposition.
Araujo and Byrd, both of whom work for Lynwood Unified School District and who are campaigning together, argue that the incumbents have no vision. Heine, they say, resists change and longs for Lynwood's past as a white middle-class suburb--a charge Heine disputes.
"I think change is one of the best things that can happen," Heine said. "We have changed and we are going to change to meet the future."
Heine said that since he has been on the council he has taken an active role in the city's beautification, including graffiti cleanup and street repairs.
But it is Henning who has become the lightning rod in the campaign. Araujo and Byrd and their supporters portray the mayor as a tyrannical leader who, with the support of a majority of the council, runs the city through fear and intimidation.
"When I was campaigning on his street, one lady asked us if we had his permission to walk on his street," Araujo said. "His attitude is, 'This is my town, this is my street, I can do what I want.' "
Said Byrd: "It seems as though everyone is running scared of the man. I don't understand it. He is an elected official."
Henning acknowledged that he can be forceful.
"I am a strong black man," he said. "I think it is important for me as a black person to stand up for what I believe. I very seldom bite my tongue and a lot of people don't like that. . . . They are not used to an aggressive politician like I am. There are some people who don't like that, there are some people who don't like me. And it's not just me, it's any black person in a position of power, and I understand that."
In recent weeks, several cheaply copied flyers accusing Henning of giving away taxpayer property and misusing public funds have circulated through town. One calls Henning "nothing more than a ruler who exercises absolute power oppressively and brutally." At the bottom of another flyer voters are urged to elect Araujo and Byrd.
Last week, Henning filed a suit in Compton Superior Court seeking $20 million in damages against Araujo, Byrd, Councilman Armando Rea, who is supporting them, and resident Lynn Dudenhoeffer, a vocal Henning critic. The suit said flyers have caused Henning to suffer "shame, mortification and hurt feelings." He has had nightmares and has had to seek medical attention for the mental and physical problems caused by stress, according to the suit.
"I don't mind people getting on me," Henning said last week in an interview. "If they want to attack me that's fine, I have a strong back. I can deal with whatever people want to shove at me, but I refuse to deal with people lying and slandering me."
Byrd and Araujo vehemently denied having anything to do with the flyers.
"I didn't circulate it. I don't know who did. I didn't have anything to do with that kind of garbage," Byrd said. Rea called Henning "an angry and failed politician" and said that he expects the suit will be tossed out. "There is no factual basis linking me or any other of the defendants in the lawsuit to any remarks or misconduct. This is political," he said.
Dudenhoeffer, who has in the past circulated flyers criticizing Henning, said she did not know anything about the flyers mentioned in the suit.
Both Byrd and Araujo said, however, that the flyers refer to some the biggest campaign issues:
* Home for at-risk young black men. Henning supports a church-based proposal to create an 86-bed military/religious academy for first offenders who are in danger of becoming hardened criminals. Residents recently packed council chambers to protest the proposal, which called for construction of the academy in a residential area on Carlin Avenue. The City Council voted against the establishing the "Genesys project" on Carlin, but directed staff to look for another site in the city. Both challengers and Councilman Heine are opposed to the project. Heine and Araujo said the city is already plagued by gangs and crime, and bringing 86 troubled youths to the area would only exacerbate the problems. Araujo also said the city already has four halfway houses or shelters, "more than its fair share." Byrd is also opposed to the project because it singles out black men.
* Race relations. Henning and his supporters argue that he has done a great deal during his tenure to improve race relations in the city. Araujo, Byrd and their supporters say that Henning, with characteristic aggressiveness, has driven a wedge between blacks, Anglos and Latinos.
Since Henning was elected in 1983, the percentage of minorities in the city's work force has increased from 55% to 78%, according to city records. Of the 261 current employees, 96 are black and 96 are Latino, records show. According to 1990 Census figures, 70% of the 62,000 residents are Latino, 21% are black and 6% are Anglo.
Henning also pointed that he championed the renaming of Century Boulevard to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Lynwood Park to Mervyn Dymally Park and another city park to Los Amigos Park to better reflect the community.
But Araujo and Byrd say that Henning's methods have been destructive rather than constructive. They say he changed the names without any consideration of how residents might feel or any respect for the city's traditions. When residents protested, he simply ignored their concerns, the challengers said. The two challengers also question the caliber of employees that Henning has brought into City Hall. Many, they charge, are young, inexperienced relatives and friends of council members.
* Utility users tax. The council in 1989 passed a utility users tax of 3% a year with a 10% cap. The tax went into effect in January, 1990, and in its first year brought in $387,000. Araujo said residents were led to believe that they would be paying a 3% tax year after year, and were not told that the tax could be raised up to 10%. She said she would do away with the utility tax, which has remained at 3%, and make sure no new taxes are imposed on residents. Heine said the tax is necessary.
"All I have to say is that I don't see how we can get along without it," Heine said. "If we don't have it we will have to start cutting services."
Heine is the only candidate who has filed the state-mandated forms requiring candidates to list their campaign contributions and expenditures. Between July 1 and Sept. 25, he raised $11,560 and spent $7,751. The other candidates said they have not had time to compile their campaign information.
Lynwood City Council
On the ballot: Four candidates, including two incumbents, for two seats.
Councilman since 1983
Occupation: state Employment Development Department supervisor
Remarks: "I've had eight beautiful years here and I feel I have done an excellent job. We have things here that other cities just dream about. We have a youth commission run by youths, we have a women's commission, free trolley service, and ongoing community beautification. We have leadership here. . . . I don't think the challengers can do a better job."
Louis J. Heine
Councilman since 1987
Occupation: retired principal, Lynwood Unified School District
Remarks: "I don't feel there are any real crucial issues. We're just moving the city forward. We're financially sound. We've been upgrading streets. We're trying to bring in new business. We're working with the Chamber of Commerce and the school district to come together as a unit and advance the city."
Occupation: elementary school principal
Remarks: "The city is being divided, polarized. It seems that a lot of activity that has taken place here has been in the interest of blacks. It needs to be for all the people. We should be a city working together for progress."
Occupation: community liaison, Lynwood Unified School District
Remarks: "There is a need for more Hispanic representation on the council. The city is more than 70% Hispanic and there is only one Hispanic council member. We need to keep our Hispanic community informed with bilingual information, because right now no one knows what's going on. There is no communication."