Heated races for two legislative seats

Tuesday’s elections in Southern California will feature contentious races for two vacant state legislative seats and dozens of local offices and measures for voters to consider in some municipal balloting.

Several cities and two education districts in Los Angeles County are holding regularly scheduled elections. Among them is Long Beach, which is conducting primaries for mayor, five City Council seats, city attorney, auditor and clerk, plus three slots each on the school and community college boards.

Thirteen other cities are choosing elected officials or weighing in on ballot proposals. Sierra Madre, for example, is asking voters whether to prohibit the city from taking property for private development (it still could exercise eminent domain for roads, schools and other public uses).

In Lancaster, a widely watched ballot measure asks voters whether the City Council can continue its practice of inviting local clergy to deliver invocations at its meetings without restricting specific religious content, including references to Jesus .


The measure comes in response to a letter sent to the city by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which received several complaints about explicitly sectarian religious references in the invocations. The ACLU called the practice divisive and unconstitutional and said the city might face legal action if it continued to allow them.

City officials said Lancaster is home to Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, in addition to Christians.

Several other California cities recently have been threatened with lawsuits claiming that prayer incorporated in government meetings breaches the Constitution’s separation of church and state.

The two special elections, for an empty Assembly seat in the Glendale-Silver Lake area and a vacant state Senate post in Riverside County, have generated lots of heat.


In the Assembly race, one of the Democrats, Glendale school board member Nayiri Nahabedian, filed a complaint with state campaign finance officials against attorney and former congressional aide Mike Gatto, widely considered her main competition.

Gatto has attacked Nahabedian’s record on the school board in the 43rd Assembly District race, saying she falsely claimed to have voted for a money-saving measure, among other things. Nahabedian supporters have accused Gatto of clandestinely recruiting and supporting another candidate, Democrat Chahe Keuroghelian, to split the Armenian American vote. They cited a Gatto mailer comparing all four candidates that criticized Nahabedian and Republican Sunder Ramani but said only neutral or positive things about Keuroghelian.

And when Keuroghelian said he was pressured by Nahabedian backers to get out of the race, a Gatto ally asked the district attorney to investigate. David Demerjian, head of the L.A. County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division, said late last week that his office was reviewing the matter.

And it won’t be over any time soon, even in the unlikely event that one of the candidates can win a majority Tuesday, thus avoiding a runoff for the unexpired term that runs through the end of the year. All four candidates also are running in the June 8 statewide primary for nomination to a regular, two-year term.


In Riverside County, voters will choose among seven candidates to fill the 37th state Senate District seat left vacant when Republican John Benoit resigned to join the county Board of Supervisors.

From the start, two well-funded Republicans -- former Assemblyman Russ Bogh and Assemblyman Bill Emmerson --have slugged it out through a blizzard of political mailers in the GOP-leaning district. Also on the ballot are one other Republican, three Democrats and an American Independent Party member.

Times staff writer Ann M. Simmons contributed to this report.