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In Inglewood, five want to be mayor

Mayor Daniel K. Tabor’s name still pops in its fresh lettering on the faded marker at the Inglewood city line. His corner office on the ninth floor of City Hall has bare walls and unpacked boxes on the floor.

He’s barely been in office a month, and Tabor’s already up for reelection.

A quirk in Inglewood’s city charter has created a whirlwind of a campaign in which voters will end up casting ballots in both a special election and a general election in the same year. On Tuesday, voters will be picking a mayor just 62 days after they voted for the current one.

As Tabor put it with a sigh, he has been in “a perpetual campaign for some time.”

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Five candidates are seeking the mayor’s job at a precarious time for Inglewood. Tabor’s predecessor, Roosevelt Dorn, resigned in January as he faced charges of public corruption, and the city has a nearly $18-million budget deficit.

Longtime City Councilwoman Judy Dunlap, former Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts and local businessmen Joseph A. Soto and Mike Stevens are challenging Tabor.

The candidates are singing a similar tune: Inglewood is in dire straits. And each one — whether coming from the City Council, business or elsewhere — says he or she has the wherewithal to right the ship.

“Someone needs to step up to the plate,” Soto said, adding that that’s where he comes in.

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The candidates use a theme that is familiar in bigger races statewide: political veterans versus novices with experience leading a business or a troubled operation.

Tabor was elected to the City Council as a 26-year-old. His focus is economic development, and he points to his experience on the council and to a three-year stint working for the Commerce Department in the Clinton administration.

In the short time he’s been mayor, he’s had to oversee the laying off of 27 employees and cuts to city services.

“I’m fortunate to be here at a time when Inglewood needs me,” he said. “I’m aware of what’s confronting us, and I have the skills” to deal with the problems.

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Dunlap, a retired elementary school teacher, is the only white elected official in a city that has become predominantly Latino and African American. She wants to make Inglewood more technologically advanced and business-friendly.

“We need to put this city on the map for positive achievement,” she said. “There have been some real down times in this city, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Stevens could not be reached for an interview.

Soto, an insurance broker, says his business experience will allow him to run a tight ship. “This city needs to be audited from top to bottom, and it’s going to start at the top,” he said.

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Butts, a 19-year veteran of the Inglewood Police Department, spoke of himself as a turnaround agent. He said crime was reduced when he ran the Police Department in Santa Monica and he said he straightened out an operation plagued by embarrassment as head of security at the Los Angeles World Airports.

Like Soto, Butts said his distance from Inglewood politics offers the fresh slate necessary in the next mayor.

“I think the new mayor will rise or fall on his or her own merits,” he said. “The new mayor will set the tone for Inglewood.”

rick.rojas@latimes.com

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