The race for the 52nd Assembly District had the makings of a true political thriller, featuring two candidates whose public lives have been peppered by controversy.
Incumbent Willard H. Murray Jr. (D-Paramount) has been widely condemned by Compton civic leaders for supporting a state takeover of the insolvent Compton school district last year. Former Compton City Councilwoman Patricia A. Moore, one of the three challengers in the Democratic primary, has provoked criticism that she is a political opportunist who surfaces at high-profile incidents involving African Americans.
Despite the potential for a raucous campaign filled with accusations, the contest has instead turned into a real sleeper with less than two weeks before the June 7 election.
The race is one of six Assembly contests quietly being waged in the Southeast. In four others, incumbents face no opposition for their party's nomination. A fifth incumbent faces only a modest challenge from a businessman with limited campaign funds.
In the 52nd District, which covers Compton, Lynwood, Paramount, Gardena and part of south Los Angeles, including Willowbrook and parts of the Florence area, there have been no forums and little campaigning.
Murray, 63, said he has been speaking to church and community groups when he flies home from Sacramento at the end of each week. He routinely makes the trip as part of his job.
Murray already is predicting victory over Moore and a third candidate, Los Angeles businessman Stephen Hamlin, 29. The winner of the primary will face Republican Richard A. Rorex, a Gardena engineer, in the November general election.
"I've won three elections fairly handily," said Murray, who beat Moore two years ago and is seeking his fourth term.
Moore, 46, says she's had little time to campaign because she has been caring for her ailing mother. Moore said she had not planned to run until she received numerous phone calls from residents complaining that Murray had lost touch with the district.
"Willard Murray wants to sit back and be a dictator, with no proven record," said Moore, referring to Murray's support for state involvement in Compton schools.
Murray said the state takeover should be considered one of his significant achievements.
Last year, Murray sponsored legislation granting the Compton school system an emergency, multimillion-dollar bailout loan. The district fell under state control as a condition of the loan. School board members denounced the state intervention, arguing that it was wrong to usurp local control, but Murray said the move was necessary to salvage a district in financial and academic ruin.
Murray's critics portray him as an aloof legislator unconcerned with his constituents' problems. His opponents point out that Murray received the lowest rating among 78 Assembly members in a recent survey by California Journal, a magazine that covers state politics.
The survey, released in March, was sent to nearly 1,800 state politicians and their staffs and to journalists. Legislators were ranked on integrity, intelligence, effectiveness and other criteria.
Murray dismissed the findings, pointing out that less than 17% of those polled actually returned the survey.
Moore also has political liabilities. She is an alleged target in an FBI bribery probe dating to her time as a Compton city councilwoman. Moore said she has not been contacted by federal authorities and knows nothing of the case.
In Compton's close-knit political world, she has been condemned at times by those who say she has readily exploited tragedies, particularly those involving African Americans, for her own advantage.
First-time candidate Hamlin, meanwhile, believes he offers a fresh alternative for voters. A resident of southern Los Angeles, Hamlin said he is walking door to door in the district to highlight his platform, which calls for improved schools, more jobs and police reform. "I won't say I'm very well-known right now, but I'm building up a lot of support," he said.