Race for L.A. Senate seat creates tensions in Black Caucus

Four current or former members of the Legislature’s six-member Black Caucus
are vying in 2008 for a single seat–the 25th Senate District seat now
represented by Inglewood Democrat Ed Vincent. Although the election is a
full two years down the road, tensions generated by the contest already are
rippling through the Capitol, sparked in part by the Senate leader’s
fund-raising efforts on behalf of one of the contenders.

The district’s registration is overwhelmingly Democratic and has been
represented for decades by an African-American, although Latinos now
outnumber blacks. The popular Vincent, a former Los Angeles Rams player and
the first black mayor of Inglewood, is termed out in 2008, leaving the field
open. Campaign committees already have been formed by current Assembly
members Mervyn Dymally of Compton and Jerome Horton of Inglewood, and by
former Los Angeles-area Assembly members Rod Wright and Carl Washington.

“You can’t start too soon,” said Wright, now a district aide to Senate
President Pro Tem Don Perata, “but it will be what it will be, and, at this
point, everything is still in flux.” Perata, along with many of the Senate’s
Democratic high command, is hosting a fund-raiser for Wright this month in
Sacramento. The hosts include Democratic senators Denise Ducheny of San
Diego, Kevin Murray of Los Angeles, Jack Scott of Altadena and Alan
Lowenthal of Long Beach. Scott, Lowenthal and Murray chair their own
committees, and Ducheny heads a critical budget subcommittee.

Dymally, 80, a fixture for decades in California politics, heads the Black
Caucus and is a former lieutenant governor and Congressman. He said he
formed a committee to keep his political options open. “I cannot walk across
the street and chew gum at the same time. My concentration is on the
November [2006] election. After that, I will make a decision,” Dymally said.

The 25th Senate District race attracted little attention until last week,
when a simmering dispute between Dymally and Horton became public after both
camps released an exchange of letters between the two lawmakers. Horton, in
a July 27 missive made public four days later, declined Dymally’s request to
support a fund-raising event for the Legislative Black Coalition Independent
Expenditure Committee scheduled in September at the Bacara Resort and Spa.
Horton complained that the IE, formed to help Black candidates, earlier had
raised more than $116,000–some of it with Horton’s help–but spent little
more than $14,000 on behalf of black candidates.

“To date, no explanation or details of this IE have been given to anyone or
any Caucus member. No one knows the purpose or anything about this new IE,”
Horton wrote. Privately, two Capitol staffers said that Horton was concerned
that the IE could work against him in his 2008 bid–a suggestion that
Horton’s staff quickly dismissed.

Dymally immediately responded that he was not a member of the committee
directing the IE, and said that the Black Caucus, under his chairmanship,
did not control any IE. Dymally also told Horton that he was “not aware of
any funds that you have raised for the Legislative Black Coalition IE,” and
tartly suggested that Horton check the disclosure documents on file with the
secretary of state’s office for further information.

Horton and Dymally apparently have patched up their spat, at least for now,
but the tensions reflect the difficulties of candidates facing limited
options, in part because of term limits and in part because of what some see
as waning African-American political clout.

The Black Caucus currently has six members–one-third fewer than during the
high-profile years of former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Assembly
Judiciary Chairman Elihu Harris, Assembly members Maxine Waters and Gwen
Moore, former Health Committee chairwoman Diane Watson, and the late Sen.
Bill Greene of Los Angeles, among others.

But African-American lawmakers believe the caucus is likely to enjoy a
comeback this year, picking up new members in San Bernardino (Wilma Carter),
Long Beach (Laura Richardson) and Oakland (Sandre Swanson). “We’ll be back
to nine members, which is exactly what it was during the days of Mr. Brown,”
Wright noted.

The oddly drawn 25th Senate District includes such affluent, although
numerically small, Republican bastions as Rancho Palos Verdes, Palos Verdes
Estates and Rolling Hills, but the core of the district includes all of
Inglewood, Compton, Gardena, Hawthorne, Lawndale, and a big piece of Long
Beach. Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1. African-Americans, with 33
percent of the 25th District’s population, are well-organized and
entrenched. But Latinos have surpassed African-Americans in recent years,
and now represent 41 percent of the vote–a fact that could factor into the
2008 election.

“A Latino with good name ID could run against four African-American
contenders and split the vote. That person could win with 30 percent of the
vote,” said Matt Rexroad, a veteran redistricting Republican specialist and
now a principal at Meridian Pacific, a communications firm.

Setting up campaign committees more than two years in advance came as no
surprise to Rexroad.

“Time is the most valuable commodity in politics. If you’ve got time, you
can raise money,” Rexroad said.

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