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Inglewood’s Curren Price set to graduate to Assembly

In 1965, when he was in 10th grade, Curren Price Jr.’s family moved from
multi-ethnic southwestern Los Angeles to mostly white Inglewood. Price found
himself as one of about 30 African Americans out of a student body of 2,000
at Morningside High School.

By senior year, Price had gotten himself elected student-body president. He
used this role to bring in an anti-war speaker for an assembly–a Black
Panther member with a long criminal history.

“I’m a child of ’60s, with all that implies, good, bad and otherwise,” Price
said.

Come November, Price will be a heavy favorite to represent Inglewood in a
somewhat more important office: the 51st Assembly district seat now occupied
by Jerome Horton, D-Inglewood. Horton said that he endorsed Price–on the day
he himself was elected to the seat in 2000.

“I think it’s wise to identify leaders that will ensure continuity in the
term-limits environment,” Horton said.

With Democrats holding nearly a four-to-one registration advantage in the
now-diverse urban district, Republicans didn’t even bother to run a
candidate against Horton in 2004. Not everyone wanted to see a “child of the
’60s” in the seat, however. The pro-business JobsPAC poured over $40,000
into the Democratic primary this year. This money was split almost evenly in
opposing Price, a nine-year Inglewood City Council member, and supporting
his opponent, Steve Bradford. Southern California Edison–an important player
in JobsPAC and Bradford’s former employer–gave Bradford $3,300, while the
California Dental Association PAC gave him $24,000.

Also a black city councilman, representing nearby Gardenia, Bradford is by
most measures a mainstream Democrat. But he was considered the slightly more
conservative of the two Democratic candidates. Horton said that the two
candidates were very similar–in fact, he said, Bradford was his alternate
choice to take the seat, along with Hawthorne Mayor Larry Guidi, and may
still succeed Price eventually.

In May, it was reported that Bradford took a $17,000 campaign contribution
from the Hustler Casino in February–then voted the next day to allow the
casino to expand. Price pulled out the race by 113 votes.

Price’s Republican opponent, Ross Moen, said JobsPAC hasn’t given him a
cent. A retired Los Angeles police officer who spent 1969 leading a rifle
company in Vietnam–while Price was enjoying Stanford–Moen has tried to
highlight what he said are Price’s free-spending, high-taxing ways while on
the city council. But he credits Price with publicly engaging him when they
have appeared together at candidate forums. This contrasts with his attempts
to debate congresswoman Maxine Waters when he ran against her in 2002 and
2004.

“She would RSVP and then just not show up,” Moen said.

While Price will be representing an area where he spent much of his youth,
he traveled a great deal in between. While getting his BA at Stanford on
scholarship, he studied at the university’s campus in Florence, Italy. When
classes ended, he spent a couple weeks hitchhiking with two classmates,
Frank Thompson and Bernard Jones.

“Imagine three young black guys trying to hitchhike in Northern Europe in
the winter,” Price said. “We were out there standing next to the Autobahn.
People assumed we were in the military.”

After that, he traveled throughout Africa, from Ghana and Nigeria to
Cameroon, Liberia and Sierra Leone. He said crossing two very different
parts of the world was an eye opener because of how similar people were all
over.

He returned to a law degree from Santa Clara University, then parlayed his
travel experiences into four years of what sounds like a job that would do
itself: marketing air conditioners in Africa. This was followed by other
jobs in the business world. But he was eventually drawn into politics.

Price–who inherited the colorful middle name DeMille from his namesake
father, who got it from his mother’s love of the films of Cecil B.
DeMille–was first elected to the Inglewood City Council in 1993. He lost a
run for mayor in 1997, then returned to the City Council in 2001.

In his most recent term, Price championed the policies that may have led to
his opposition from the business community. A “smart growth” and transit
advocate, he also pushed for a “1 percent for art” initiative in the
Morningside Park area of Inglewood. The fee has raised over $200,000 for
public art.

“The arts can be a powerful tool for economic development,” Price said.
His liberal reputation was burnished by his campaign slogan, “Price is
right, Arnold is wrong.” Price also supports universal health care and a
minimum wage with indexing.

But it may be in the area of cultural values that this “child of the ’60s”
may eventually make the most noise. Last month, he joined with several other
black legislative candidates at a fund-raiser for a black gay group,
California Black Justice Political Action Committee.

While appearing at a fund-raiser for a gay group is now routine for many
California Democrats, there has been significant opposition to gay rights
coming out of black churches, according to the PAC’s founder, Jasmyne
Cannick. If mainstream black politicians work openly with gay groups, she
said, it could help force gay organizations to look more closely at the
needs of gays of color, she said. It could also open up the black community
to the concept that gay rights are a “civil rights” struggle, as Price has
described it.

“The people making the comparison are usually white, and blacks just see
white folks trying to claim the civil rights movement,” Connick said. “The
messenger matters a lot.”

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