ELECTIONS / ASSEMBLY DISTRICTS : 51st Is Inland, but Tucker's Candidacy Is Set on Coast : Assemblyman Curtis Tucker Jr. has no major party opponents. Races for two other seats that include some South Bay areas are more contentious, however.


While many politicians face pitched battles for renomination, 51st District Assemblyman Curtis Tucker Jr. is coasting toward the Democratic nomination with no challengers.

And with no Republican candidates in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, Tucker's only contest will occur this fall when he faces Libertarian candidate Clark W. Hanley, an electronics technician from Westchester, and Peace and Freedom Party hopeful Xenia Geraldine Williams, an eligibility worker from Inglewood.

Tucker, 37, was first elected to the Assembly in 1989 after the death in office of his father, Curtis Tucker. The first-term assemblyman represents an area that includes Inglewood, Hawthorne and Lawndale.

The elder Tucker, who represented the district for 14 years, was so dominant a political figure that he won reelection in November, 1988, after his death. The posthumous reelection, unprecedented in state history, forced a special election in February, 1989, that was easily won by Curtis Tucker Jr.

The new assemblyman's first job in politics was with former Democratic Assemblyman Mike Roos of Los Angeles. After four years there, Tucker moved to the Crenshaw District office of Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles) in 1987. Two years later, he was in the Assembly.

Though originally eyeing a race this year for a new state Senate seat, Tucker decided in February to seek reelection in the 51st Assembly District, bowing to pressure from Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and other Democratic powerbrokers.

In addition to the 51st District post, there are two other local Assembly seats at stake in the elections. In both cases, only a portion of the districts fall within the South Bay.

52nd Assembly District

Willard Murray is at the top of many lists as he bids for a third term. But these distinctions won't appear on his campaign mailers and posters.

In a recent survey in Sacramento, Murray headed the list of Assembly members who were least effective, least intelligent and least energetic. Murray, 61, is also on the hit list of retiring Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton) and Compton Unified School District officials.

Murray brushes aside the obstacles as well as the challenges of Lynwood City Councilwoman Evelyn Wells and Compton City Councilwoman Patricia A. Moore in his bid for the redrawn 52nd, which includes Lynwood, Gardena, Paramount, much of Compton and parts of Long Beach, South Gate, Hawthorne and South-Central Los Angeles. There are no Republican or independent candidates for the seat.

"(Wells and Moore) are the ones that will have to overcome," Murray said of his challengers. "I have an outstanding record and a great deal of support."

For the first time, however, his supporters will not include former ally Dymally, whose friendship with Murray ended when they locked horns over control of a local political tabloid.

Dymally is backing Wells, 45, a Lynwood councilwoman since 1985.

Murray gained the enmity of Compton Unified officials by proposing a state takeover of the school system, which is struggling with low student test scores. School board members accused Murray of trying to wrest local control from the district. Administrators raced to Sacramento and stalled the legislation.

But Murray said he had no choice other than to intervene in Compton schools. "It is rated as the lowest-scoring school district in the entire state, and it is in my district," Murray said. "I think they need outside help, and they seem to think they can do it themselves."

One of Murray's greatest obstacles may be the results of a recent California Journal survey of the Sacramento press corps, lobbyists, legislators and staff members. Murray ranked last in the Assembly in integrity, intelligence, effectiveness, energy and potential.

On many issues, Murray and his challengers voice similar views about what to do for a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic and has a higher unemployment rate than the county at large. The population is 48% Latino and 36% African-American, but African-Americans vastly outnumber Latinos among registered voters.

All three candidates are African-American. They all support health care accessible to the unemployed, and increased government and community aid to schools. The candidates speak of wanting to create jobs and other opportunities before young people turn to crime or lose hope.

Moore and Wells criticize Murray for opposing gun control and supporting the spraying of the pesticide malathion to control Mediterranean fruit flies.

Murray said he believes that most constituents support his stand against gun control. He added that he is convinced that malathion is safe and that he wants to protect agriculture-related jobs.

Both challengers take credit in their cities for luring commercial developers, establishing youth advisory councils, and supporting job training and activity programs for young people.

As a Lynwood councilwoman, Wells, 45, takes particular pride in having worked to establish the city's new entrepreneurial academy, which supports new businesses, and a city-funded, after-school program at local elementary schools. In addition to her council duties, Wells works for the Lynwood Unified School District, supervising student council money.

Although Wells has Dymally's support, Moore said she does not see that as a hindrance.

"I'm an independent person and Dymally requires from people that he supports that they be totally supportive of him. I'm too radical, too activist," said Moore, 43, who works as a development consultant for group homes for the mentally disabled.

As a first-term Compton councilwoman, Moore said she played a key role in moving more Compton police officers from desk jobs to the streets and in advocating city control of the struggling Ramada Hotel. The city helped to finance the hotel and ultimately foreclosed on the property when the developer fell behind in his loan payments.

54th Assembly District

Pundits say Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando has the kind of race incumbents dream about.

Although reapportionment wiped out the districts of other legislators or otherwise made it nearly impossible for incumbents to win, Felando's district simply slid south--from Manhattan Beach and Torrance into Long Beach and Lakewood.

Like the old district, the new one has a majority of Republican voters and a conservative working-class base. And Felando will continue to represent Rancho Palos Verdes and San Pedro, as he has for 10 years.

A stalwart Republican, Felando is expected to cruise to an easy victory in both the primary and general elections. His only competition in the primary is Don L. Bullock, a cordial gun show promoter who said he is running on an anti-tax platform and "the usual things politicians claim they are going to do but don't."

Bullock is spending less than $1,000 on the race and said he is counting on votes from those who know him on the gun show circuit.

"I'm rather famous anyway," he said. "Most people know how I feel about issues and they know I'm a nice guy."

Felando, a dentist who has served in the Assembly 14 years, has represented Ranchos Palos Verdes for a decade, but he is somewhat new to the Long Beach area. Despite the low profile of his competitor and his own record of wins, Felando is not taking anything for granted.

"I don't count any election as a shoo-in," he said. "Doing so in a campaign would surely be courting disaster."

Tom Shortridge, Felando's campaign manager, said that, in a sense, the competition is the new district and its constituents who may have never heard of Felando.

"Basically, we have to tell people who Jerry is," Shortridge said. "They may have seen his name before in the newspaper but don't really know anything about him."

Felando is known as a tough-on-crime legislator who favors the death penalty. He also opposes abortion. And the pro-business legislator said an immediate priority is halting the exodus of companies by cutting state regulations and taxes.

Of biggest concern to Republican strategists is Felando's health. The assemblyman was treated for lymphoma, a cancer that strikes the lymph nodes. However, Felando said the cancer is in complete remission and his health is "very good."

If Felando wins as expected, in November he will face longtime Democratic party activist and teacher Betty Karnette.

Times staff writer Tina Griego contributed to this story.

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