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His support is not an endorsement

Times Staff Writer

Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton) said he knew the race to fill his 52nd District seat would be intensely competitive, with several candidates lining up for endorsements.

So he gave his support to everyone who asked.

Compton City Councilman Isadore Hall, the front-runner, received Dymally’s backing. So did Linda Harris-Forster, a social worker and the daughter of longtime Watts activist “Sweet” Alice Harris. Deborah Sims LeBlanc, a college professor, said Dymally promised to be a resource for her campaign. And Paramount City Councilwoman Diane Martinez said Dymally gave his support and posed for a picture with her.

The only candidate who failed to get Dymally’s approval was Gwen Patrick, a Republican, who said she never considered asking.

But Dymally said his political offerings should not be misunderstood.

“They have my support, not my endorsement,” said Dymally, who insists he’s not officially lending his name to anyone running for his seat in the June 3 primary. “Each one is a friend, and if I endorse [one and not the other], someone will be unhappy.”

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Another reason Dymally doesn’t want to risk offending candidates -- and voters -- in his Assembly district is that he’s locked in a fierce battle with former Assemblyman Roderick Wright and three other candidates for the 25th District Senate seat being vacated by incumbent Sen. Edward Vincent, who is termed out. Parts of the 25th and 52nd districts overlap.

The political scene in South Los Angeles is especially intense this year and may signal a shift in election trends.

The competitive campaigns for the 52nd and 25th districts have been somewhat overshadowed by the campaign to succeed Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, a matchup featuring Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) and seven other candidates.

Burke’s central-county district extends from mid-Los Angeles south to Carson and includes nine cities and more than a dozen sections of unincorporated county land. It’s home to more than half a million African Americans, the largest concentration of blacks in the county. In addition, it includes territory represented by numerous African American elected officials. But there are twice as many Latinos in the supervisorial district, and they are expected to change the political dynamics of the area as their voting rate increases.

“The guy who doesn’t have something to say to Latinos will soon only be talking to himself,” said Wright, whose term in the Assembly ended in 2002.

The increase in Latino voter strength may be a factor in the largely Democratic 52nd District race, where Martinez is the only Latino on the ballot.

“Diane Martinez is as much in play as anybody else, especially if the black vote is split by three other candidates,” said Gardena City Councilman Steve Bradford.

Martinez, a teacher who has been on the Paramount City Council for 14 years, came in second to Dymally in the 2002 Assembly race.

“I know the demographics have changed and there are more Hispanics, but I’m hoping and praying that people vote for who is the best candidate,” said Martinez, who was born in Lynwood and has lived in the South County area all her life.

Growing up in Watts, Harris-Forster said she has a long history of working closely with Latino community groups, and she signaled that connection by naming Christine Chavez, a labor leader and granddaughter of United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez, as her campaign chairwoman.

Harris-Forster has amassed an array of political endorsements and grass-roots support through her association with Parents of Watts, an organization founded by her mother.

But Hall has the most endorsements, including the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “This is not an African American seat or a Latino seat,” said Hall. “People will choose a candidate who supports their issues.”

In general, most candidates running for political office in South L.A. agree on several key issues: improving educational opportunities, reopening Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital and improving healthcare, creating more job opportunities and making neighborhood safe and clean.

In the 25th Senate district race, Wright and Dymally are considered the front-runners. But Wright may have a hard time overcoming Dymally’s legendary status as a pioneer of black politics in California.

“The Dymally name has been on the ballot for 40 years,” said Kerman Maddox, a political consultant. “That’s like trying to knock off a Kennedy in Boston.”

Wright said he plans to make the point that during his six years in the Assembly he had three times as many bills signed into law as Dymally had during his most recent stint. “If you look at his production, it’s dwindling off,” Wright said.

But Dymally refused to be defined by only his last six years in the Assembly. He first served there from 1962 to 1966, becoming the first black state senator in 1966; he also was the first and only black lieutenant governor and a six-term congressman before he returned to the Assembly in 2002 after 10 years of retirement.

“I’ll stack my record against anybody,” he said.

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john.mitchell@latimes.com


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