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Inglewood Spotlight Is on Usually Obscure Office

Times Staff Writer

In most local elections, the hottest contests are almost always the races for City Council or school board, the high-visibility, policy-setting offices that sometimes even serve as springboards into state or federal posts.

But in Inglewood, where voters will choose a half-dozen office-holders on Tuesday, it is the intense battle for the important but politically unglamorous job of city clerk that is generating most of the attention. And it is because of the city clerk’s race that California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley recently decided to send state election monitors.

At the center of the controversy is the recently seated incumbent, Yvonne Horton, who won a special runoff election in January and who is overseeing Tuesday’s election.

She said she welcomes the state’s monitors and noted that Shelley is among many state and local officials who have endorsed her. The city clerk added that she is focused on “doing the best possible job I can.”

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Complaints about Horton’s role in overseeing her own election -- as well as other races in which her husband, state Assemblyman Jerome Horton (D-Inglewood), has an interest -- surfaced on March 18, when about a dozen candidates and civic leaders held a news conference, asking that Yvonne Horton recuse herself and requesting oversight from the U.S. Department of Justice, Shelley and others.

That same day, a divided Inglewood City Council turned down three oversight proposals by the mayor. At least one council member accused Mayor Roosevelt Dorn of trying to control the elections.

“All that is being asked is that someone independent handle this, so that people can feel they are getting a fair election,” he said.

In Los Angeles County, 31 of the 88 cities have elected, not appointed, city clerks, many of whom oversee local elections, including ones in which they are running.

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The practice usually is not controversial, but there are several steps a clerk or City Council can take to assure voters’ confidence, said County Registrar-Recorder Conny B. McCormack. They include having a deputy handle the election, hiring an outside entity or asking the county for additional help.

The county can run a city’s election, and does so for about 15 area municipalities; their councils have contracted with McCormack’s office for the service.

Inglewood candidates and others concerned about the election have the right to send their own observers to the polling places, watch ballot tabulations and scrutinize absentee-ballot requests, McCormack said.

Yvonne Horton’s critics said they worried about her husband’s high visibility in her race and others.

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Some view the city clerk race as a power struggle between two political factions -- one headed by Jerome Horton and state Sen. Ed Vincent (D-Inglewood), and the other by Dorn.

In addition to taking opposite sides in the city clerk’s race, Jerome Horton and Dorn back opposing candidates in the two City Council and two school board races. (City Treasurer Wanda Brown is running for reelection unopposed.)

An opponent and others say that Yvonne Horton’s refusal to participate in several candidate forums is evidence that she depends too much on her husband and is unwilling to introduce herself to constituents except through political mailers that her campaign has been sending to voters.

“I don’t think that’s good enough, and it’s not fair to the community,” said the opponent, school board member Gloria Gray, who lost the January runoff to Horton after the two emerged as top vote-getters in the eight-candidate special election in November.

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“I’m running on my qualifications and my budgetary experience, my experience in managing people and my administrative experience,” said Gray, who has served two terms as a board member of the Inglewood Unified School District and recently retired as a special assistant to the county director of health services. She has served on boards of various government and community organizations.

Gray has filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission; it included allegations that Jerome Horton had spent campaign money on his wife’s behalf during the last election without reporting it.

The commission has acknowledged the complaint, but officials would not comment on a possible investigation.

Dorn has endorsed Gray, and he recently loaned her campaign $20,000 from his own political funds, according to the most recently available finance statements.

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By March 15, Gray reported raising $55,403, including the mayor’s loan.

By contrast, Horton reported raising $138,927, a large part of it in loans from her husband’s campaign committees.

Horton said she has been too busy with elections duties to attend forums, which she said appeared to be sponsored by people sympathetic to her opponents.

“The best thing I can do is to keep working hard to prove I am doing a very good job,” she said. “I don’t have time to play games.”

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She said her goals for the full-time position, which officials said pays $86,736 a year, include improving access to public records, and she recently got City Council approval for an audit of the office.

Horton’s campaign literature lists various posts she has held, including legal accounting clerk, office manager, bookkeeper and property manager. Her community service activities include Inglewood YMCA, Women on the Move for Christ and the Inglewood Unity Committee.

The other candidate for clerk, American Airlines flight attendant Gloria Ann Greene -- who also ran for the post last year -- said she is offering herself as someone who is not aligned with either political faction and can do the best job.

Greene said she has taken several workshops and classes offered by the California Assn. of City Clerks and promises to improve voter turnout and create a “citizen-friendly environment” in the clerk’s office.

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She acknowledged her fund-raising has lagged behind that of her competitors and has delayed filing the required campaign finance reports, in part because she has little to report and in part because she feels uncomfortable with the incumbent’s having access to the information.

Greene said her campaign has focused on reaching voters through phone calls, yard signs and public forums and trying to stay above the fray. “It’s getting hot out there,” Greene said, “and I am just trying to stay positive and make sure none of the mud lands on me.”


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