ELECTIONS / CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS : Hotly Contested Race for 37th District Seat Steals the Thunder : Politics: Democratic candidates have unleashed a barrage of attacks through the mail. The winner of the primary will face minor-party opposition in November.
Any notion that the 37th Congressional District race was going to be a civil campaign disappeared the moment both Compton Mayor Walter Tucker and Compton Unified School District Trustee Lynn Dymally stepped into the ring.
In the last few months, Tucker’s dismissal from the district attorney’s office has been rehashed in detail. The woefully poor test scores and high dropout rate of Compton Unified has been bandied about. Glossy color photos purporting to show Tucker unlawfully using the city car to campaign were sent to the news media--a charge he has denied. And Dymally, daughter of outgoing Rep. Mervyn Dymally, has been repeatedly accused of using her father’s name and influence to take his seat in Congress.
The race for the 37th District, which runs from Wilmington and Carson to Lynwood, has been one of the hottest in a season of unprecedented opportunity for congressional hopefuls.
The district is one of the most heavily Democratic in the state, so much so that not a single Republican entered the race. The only opposition the winner will face in November will be Peace and Freedom candidate B. Kwaku Duren.
Five Democrats jumped into the race: Joe Mendez, a 31-year-old labor leader from Wilmington; Lawrence Grigsby, a Compton attorney; Vera Robles DeWitt, a former Carson councilwoman, Dymally and Tucker.
Dymally, 33, and Tucker, 35, have vastly outspent the others. By Tuesday, Dymally estimates she will have spent $300,000, with Tucker a distant second, spending about $100,000.
As in most races, it has been the mail that has set the tone of the campaign, and the mail has focused mercilessly on each candidate’s perceived weaknesses.
“On June 2, you can take your government back from the slick politicians--and their sons and daughters,” read one DeWitt piece.
“Dymally--a name you can depend on,” said a glossy mailer sent out by Lynn Dymally.
That mailer prompted a flyer by Tucker supporters: “Dymally--a name you can depend on . . . to do nothing.”
There were also several pieces by a committee calling itself Truth In Politics in which DeWitt was portrayed as a pig and Tucker was labeled a convicted felon.
A judge recently ordered the group to stop saying Tucker was convicted of a felony. Tucker pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of altering an official document in the late 1980s while he was a deputy district attorney. Though Lynn Dymally has disavowed any ties to the group, her father has admitted advising TIP on occasion.
At times during the campaign it seemed as if Mervyn Dymally were the one running, not his daughter. Tucker, DeWitt and Grigsby have all been critical of the retiring congressman, though it has been Tucker who has been the most outspoken. Tucker has repeatedly criticized the congressman for pursuing his overseas interests while ignoring the district. At a recent forum, Tucker accused the congressman of campaigning for his daughter while the district was reeling from the recent riots.
“I am running against Mervyn,” Tucker said. “I’m running against the dynasty, the regime . . . To say I’m running against Lynn Dymally is a joke. She couldn’t even begin to run a campaign for Congress on her own.”
Lynn Dymally has refused to respond to Tucker’s attacks. At forums and in her mail, she speaks only of her family, her record and her platform.
“I’m out there to sell myself, not to destroy Tucker,” she said. “I don’t have the time or the interest to beat up on him. The only reason he speaks negatively about me and my father is because he has nothing positive to say about himself or about the issues.”
Tucker and Dymally’s tug-of-war has left the other three candidates upset that the pressing needs of the district have been lost in all the grandstanding.
“I see doom and gloom if we get a Tucker or a Dymally in office,” Grigsby said. “They are elitist, they’ve never worked for anybody and they think they are entitled to political leadership.”
The 37th is one of the most ethnically diverse districts in the state. It is also one of the poorest, with seven housing projects, a rising unemployment rate and high crime.
If the race for Rep. Maxine Water’s Democratic seat is less intense than other local elections, it’s not for lack of effort by her lone opponent: Roger A. Young of Inglewood.
The 43-year-old project manager for Hughes Aircraft in El Segundo has fired a number of salvos at the first-term congresswoman, decrying everything from Waters’ fiery demeanor to her persistent attacks on the Pentagon.
But Young acknowledges his campaign to unseat the well-known Waters has been an uphill battle. “Her name recognition alone is a significant obstacle,” said Young.
Though she has only served two years in Congress, Waters’ previous 14 years in the state Assembly and her high-profile alliances with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown have made her virtually a household name in Los Angeles County politics.
The outspoken Waters has long been a champion of liberal causes. From housing to health care, education to economic empowerment for minorities, Waters, 53, has been a mainstay of Democratic policies.
But it is precisely Waters’ record and reputation that Young sees as her weakness.
While Waters’ fierce manner has won her many a political battle, Young says her combativeness is counterproductive to successful leadership.
“People don’t want to be dealing with someone who is antagonistic,” he said.
Likewise, Young insists that Waters’ time in politics has been marked more by publicity than sound public policy. As examples, he cites her opposition to last year’s Persian Gulf War and her relentless criticism over the years of Reagan-Bush policies.
“She’s very good at reacting. But if she was doing her job, she would have done something to allay the problems” she publicly criticizes, Young said.
But Waters’ supporters and staff disagree.
“Our effort has always been to provide services and we work for our district. And (voters) recognize her as a champion of rights for her district,” said Rod Wright, Waters’ representative for a district that includes Hawthorne, Inglewood and South-Central Los Angeles.
Waters, he said, was critical of the Gulf War because she thought it was unjustified and feared that the great numbers of minorities in the military stood to suffer the greatest casualties in the conflict.
Moreover, Wright insisted that Waters has been at the forefront of many economic and social battles critical to her constituents, like the state’s divestiture policy toward South Africa and her legislation outlawing PCP--a drug that has been a scourge in many communities.
Thus far, the race has been so low key that Wright figures the congresswoman will spend far less than $30,000 on her reelection campaign. By comparison, Young said he will spend $20,000.
Running unopposed for nominations are Republican Nate Truman, Libertarian Carin Rogers and Peace and Freedom candidate Alice Mae Miles.
Until last week, the campaign for the 38th congressional seat had been unusually quiet. The eight Republicans had been a remarkably friendly lot and the four Democrats seemed to be keeping to themselves.
But last week, the grins turned to grimaces when Republican Dennis Brown, a former assemblyman, unleashed the first salvo with a piece blasting his three chief rivals.
Of the eight candidates, Brown has the greatest name recognition and the most experience in politics as a 12-year assemblyman. Hot on his trail are former Cal State Long Beach President Steve Horn, who was a White House consultant during the Nixon Administration, Whittier businessman Andrew Hopwood and Tom Poe, a businessman who was a longtime field deputy to County Supervisor Deane Dana. Trailing the pack are Sanford Kahn, a politically active engineer; Jerry Bakke, the owner of a trucking company; John Carl Brogdon, a deputy county assessor, and William Ward, a teacher.
The Republican primary has drawn the greatest amount of interest because for the first time in years, the GOP has a chance to wrest control of the district, which is solidly Anglo and working middle-class, and stretches from south Wilmington to Long Beach and Downey.
Brown, Poe and Horn have conducted the most expensive campaigns. All three have raised over $100,000.
Brown, 43, comes into the race with the blessing of many Republican leaders. While serving in the Assembly, he cultivated an image as someone who believed government should be as little involved in people’s lives as possible. Consequently, he tended to vote against everything, earning him the moniker “Dr. No"--a name he is not particularly fond of.
In 1990, Brown said no to the Assembly when he reported that God had directed him not to run for a seventh term. Brown eventually traveled to Cambodia as a missionary. Despite his disillusionment with the Assembly, he said he is willing to give Congress a try.
Poe is equally conservative and would like to tighten the nation’s borders, make English classes mandatory for all new immigrants and create an identification card for all immigrants. Poe said his work as field deputy for Dana has made him a “professional problem-solver” who is best suited to address the needs of the 38th.
Horn has refrained from criticizing the other candidates. His reputation as a tough, hands-on leader as Cal Sate Long Beach president earned him both friends and enemies. “I happened to be a very reform-oriented president,” Horn said.
He is also calling himself the reform-oriented candidate, striking a more moderate stance than either Brown or Poe. He supports the right to an abortion and has proposed universal health care operated by both the government and the private sector.
Meanwhile, Democrats are not about to give up the district without a fight. Four are in the race, with Long Beach City Councilman Evan Anderson Braude taking center stage.
“The Bush-Reagan years have hurt the people of the 38th,” said Braude’s campaign manager, Jeff Adler. “They are disappointed by the loss of jobs in aerospace, they are angry about the savings and loans and the deterioration of the inner cities and the cost of health care. They want to see these problems addressed and our sense is that they will come home and vote in the Democratic Party.”
Braude supports term limits and favors trimming the defense budget to use the savings for education and health care. He also proposes tax incentives to allow McDonnell Douglas to stay in the district.
Braude’s chief challenge is coming from Cypress College American government professor Peter Mathews, a progressive liberal.
The professor has gained most of his support on the college circuit where he has vigorously campaigned. He supports a progressive tax on the rich, universal health care modeled after the Canadian system, and would redirect defense dollars to retrain defense workers and rebuild ports, streets and bridges and construct a rapid transit rail system.
Also vying for the Democratic nomination are aerospace engineer and former Bellflower Councilman Ray O’Neal, a conservative Democrat, Bill Glazewski and Clarence Gregory.
37th Congressional District
Communities: Carson, Lynwood, Wilmington, Willowbrook, most of Compton and parts of Athens, Long Beach, Los Angeles and Paramount.
Latino 258,278 45% African-American 192,420 34% Asian 57,701 10% Non-Hispanic white 68,776 12% Total** 577,175 101%
Democrat 138,835 76% Republican 26,313 14% American Indep. 2,166 1% Green 117 * Libertarian 498 * Peace & Freedom 1,900 1% Miscellaneous 379 * Declined to state 12,587 7%
Number of registered voters: 182,795
Democrat: Lynn Dymally, Compton Unified School District board member Lawrence A. Grigsby, attorney Joe Mendez Jr., pipe fitter Walter R. Tucker III, Compton mayor Peace & Freedom B. Kwaku Duren, economic deveopment attorney * Less than 1%
** Some people may have been counted in two ethnic categories during the 1990 census, thus creating an inflated population total.
Sources: Los Angeles County registrar-recorder’s office and Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning.
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Clarification: Steve Horn did not work as a White House consultant during the Nixon Administration. He was however a Nixon appointee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, as well as other commissions and boards.
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