The past year has not been kind to Inglewood, a city that has struggled for years to overcome high unemployment, violent crime and a shrinking tax base.
In April, the civil disturbance that followed the verdict in the Rodney G. King beating case left some Inglewood businesses in ashes and others struggling to attract customers. Poor economic conditions statewide intensified the problems, forcing the city to make up a $7-million budget shortfall.
On the campaign trail, incumbency and the city's fiscal problems are the biggest issues in the April 6 City Council election. There are two seats at stake on the five-member council, and in both cases the incumbents, Daniel K. Tabor from District 1 and Anthony Scardenzan from District 2, are seeking new four-year terms.
Both Tabor and Scardenzan have served 12 years on the council. And both face five challengers. If no candidate in the races wins more than half of the votes, the two top finishers will meet in a June 8 runoff.
Tabor's challengers are Mary H. Allen, 42, a counselor in the Los Angeles school system; Pamela Fisher, 29, a cable television company employee; Gilbert A. Mathieu, 60, a pharmacist; Curren Price, 42, coordinator of a nonprofit organization; and Brad N. Pye, 61, coordinator of disability programs for a Los Angeles County agency.
Tabor, 38, an executive with United Way, is presenting himself as the seasoned public servant. "The experience I've had on the council is . . . a positive for the city," he said.
Tabor's challengers, however, say that the man who won his first election at the age of 26 is no longer energetic in the job, does not keep in touch with his constituents and has become arrogant about the public purse.
At a candidates' forum last week, Tabor ended his comments by telling the audience that the issues his challengers focus on--crime, taxes, budgets, economic development--are the same issues he has been addressing daily for the past 12 years.
Price seized on Tabor's remark. "The trouble is," said Price, "they haven't been effectively addressed." Drive down any of the city's main thoroughfares, past the empty storefronts, Price said, and you see a city "in need of help."
Another challenger, Allen, recently caused Tabor a spell of negative publicity when she handed out figures showing that bills for his cellular car phone, paid by taxpayers, were double those of other council members and sometimes as high as $600 a month.
Tabor said the bills only show how hard he works at keeping in touch with the residents of his district. Mayor Edward Vincent wants the council to set limits on its phone bills. If that happens, Tabor said, he will continue to work the phone just as hard but pay any excess charges himself.
Allen, one of the few candidates who has hired a political consultant, is expected this week to begin filling voters' mailboxes with campaign literature about Tabor and his phone bills. A former teacher, Allen is a high school counselor for the Los Angeles Unified School District and coordinates its student work experience program.
Price has a law degree from Stanford University. He is Southern California coordinator for the California Community Economic Development Assn., an Oakland-based nonprofit group that works with other nonprofit organizations on housing and economic development projects. He and his wife, Suzette, also own a printing business in Inglewood.
Mathieu, former chairman of the Inglewood Parking and Traffic Commission, is making his third bid for a City Council seat. He wants to repeal the city's 10% utility tax, which he considers a burden on taxpayers.
Pye was an aide to former Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn and currently is coordinator of disability programs for the county's Department of Children's Services. Pye has lived in the city for two years and unsuccessfully ran for Los Angeles City Council shortly before moving to Inglewood. He said he understands the community's problems, despite his relatively short time in the city.
Fisher ran unsuccessfully for city treasurer in the mid-1980s and works in the dispatch division of Continental Cablevision. She continues to be an ardent foe of the proposed Hollywood Park card club, although city voters approved the club in a referendum last November. Fisher said she doubts that the club will financially benefit the city and believes it will only bring more crime.
Like all the candidates, however, Fisher said that if the club does produce revenue, she wants the city to share the money with the financially strapped Inglewood Unified School District.
Tabor last June proposed that the city spend half of the club's projected $10 million in revenue on schools, economic and community development and cultural affairs. City administrators oppose the idea, and the council has yet to act on it.
To deal with the city's constant budget deficits, all the challengers suggested cutting the salaries of City Manager Paul D. Eckles and his top two aides, all of whom earn well over $100,000 a year.
Almost all the challengers said they would not cut the fire and police budgets, preferring instead to postpone capital improvements and cut back on such services as tree trimming and street sweeping. Tabor said he would not pledge to protect the fire and police budgets from all proposed cuts if it meant "decimating" the libraries and the recreation programs.
All the candidates agreed that City Council meetings should be broadcast on cable television, an idea Tabor has been pushing for years.
Scardenzan's opponents are Gary J. Nelson, 54, an insurance agent; Judith L. Dunlap, 47, an Inglewood schoolteacher; Mark Ganier, 57, an Inglewood school district maintenance supervisor; Barbara Anne Seymore, a Defense Department employee (she would not divulge her age); and Satanand (Stan) Sharma, 47, a businessman.
Ask Scardenzan why he joined two other City Council members recently in opposing televised council meetings, and he responds with an earful.
"Because we have a council that is not fit to be on TV," the veteran councilman said. "We have members of the council who have maligned members of the staff. We have members of the council who have called each other names."
Televising council meetings, Scardenzan declared, is just a way for certain members to advertise themselves for higher office.
Scardenzan, a 64-year-old Italian immigrant, arrived in Inglewood in 1964 and owns a tool and die company in Gardena. The only Anglo on the council and the only candidate with an endorsement from the mayor, Scardenzan represents for many the Inglewood of another era. In that time, there was no open drug dealing on the city's streets and Sacramento did not take a large portion of local property tax revenues to balance the state budget.
All five challengers say they want to see the council meetings on cable television, although one challenger, Nelson, said he would not vote for it as long as the city budget is in the red. Nelson said, however, that he believes the city should begin tape recording its meetings.
Nelson, a Prudential Insurance Co. agent, has lived in Inglewood for 50 of his 54 years. "(Scardenzan) was great for the first two terms," Nelson said, but "The last term he wasn't as visible, not as active." The district needs more vigorous representation, Nelson said.
Dunlap, a lifelong resident of the city, said at a candidates' forum last week that she considers Scardenzan a friend. "But election to the council," Dunlap said, "is not about friendship. It is about leadership."
A teacher for 25 years in the Inglewood school system, Dunlap is highly critical of Scardenzan's votes to spend money on such things as ad campaigns to polish the city's image. The money would be better spent on youth programs and more police, which would alleviate problems such as the city's crime rate, she said.
Even though the budget is tight, Dunlap said the city must find money for after-school programs as a way to keep juveniles out of crime.
Ganier is making his second bid to unseat Scardenzan. Ganier said he seeks better relations between the city and the Inglewood school district.
Sharma, the most colorful of the challengers, said he was "inducted" to run for council by the small business owners of Inglewood who believe the city government does not protect or serve them.
Sharma drives a Rolls-Royce, owns a hotel in the city and operates a medical clinic that treats drug and psychiatric problems.
But he also is behind in taxes. He owes more than $230,000 to the city, almost $100,000 of which is interest and fines, for refusing to pay the bed tax on his Tradewinds Hotel. He and the city have carried on a long legal feud over whether the city is correctly assessing the hotel.
Seymore is open about her desire to join the tide of women swept into office in elections last fall. She pointed out that she would be the first African-American woman to serve on the council.
"I don't see there being a voice for women," said Seymore, the only candidate in District 2 to say she favors a full-time, paid mayor and council.