BELLFLOWER — To the surprise of his former aide Kent A. Spieller, Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton) last week endorsed another longtime ally--Willard H. Murray--in the crowded Democratic primary race for the 54th Assembly District.
Spieller, one of nine candidates in the field, had entered the contest under the impression that he--not Murray--would have Dymally's considerable support. But the congressman broke the news to him over the telephone one recent evening.
"He called me . . . we chatted," the 34-year-old lawyer said this week. "He indicated that Willard had been with him during political campaigns for 20 years. . . . That was pretty much it."
So at a press conference on Friday, Dymally hailed the 55-year-old Murray as a tireless contributor to the Democratic Party--one whose "ability" and "commitment" made him a better candidate than both Spieller and Edward K. Waters, who has generally been regarded as the front-runner in the June 3 primary because he is the son of Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and enjoys the substantial backing of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).
Not 'Taking Mrs. Waters On'
Dymally insisted that his endorsement of Murray--a "special assistant" who takes a leave from the congressman's staff in election years to produce an independent campaign mailer--was not a sign that he is "taking Mrs. Waters on, or taking the (Assembly) leadership on." But it nevertheless leaves him at odds with the two powerful politicians after Brown specifically warned him not to meddle in the race. At the same time, Dymally emphasized that he will eventually support whoever becomes the party nominee.
"I spoke with Mrs. Waters and told her that as a father I had great simpatico for her son's aspiration," said Dymally, whose daughter is a school board member in Compton. "I understand he's a fine young man and I think Maxine and I had some very, very constructive conversations about it."
But Dymally said the younger Waters, West Coast coordinator for the Free South Africa Movement, "lacks the visibility . . . that some of the other candidates have. But he does have the Speaker, and one cannot ignore those resources."
Candidate Waters did not return several calls seeking his comment.
On Wednesday, Spieller filed a Superior Court suit and administrative action challenging Waters' ballot designation in which Waters described himself as a state investigator. Spieller said "the only investigating in which Mr. Waters is involved concerns landlord-tenant disputes" in his work for a federally funded, independent agency that relocates people living in the Century Freeway right-of-way.)
Still another endorsement is expected to come within the next two weeks from retiring 54th District Assemblyman Frank Vicencia (D-Bellflower), who said he wants to talk with all nine candidates before deciding whom he will support. When asked if he might be leaning toward Waters, Vicencia replied that "having Maxine as a mother doesn't hurt."
Spieller, meanwhile, reacted to Dymally's endorsement by saying that he was "surprised and personally disappointed." A key factor "that encouraged me to become a candidate was Congressman Dymally's early encouragement and support," Spieller said. "I'm disappointed that he didn't stick with his sole support of me, but in no way does it discourage me. . . ."
Spieller's campaign consultant, Harvey Englander, agreed that Dymally had at one point "made extremely clear" that he planned to endorse Spieller. "I don't know the reason behind why Mervyn did what he did" in switching to Murray, Englander said. "I'm sure he's been under a lot of pressure lately."
Dymally explained that his decision to endorse one friend over another was among "the most difficult" of his 25-year political career.
"I can't tell you of any more heartbreaking, more difficult conversation I've had than the night I had to call Kent Spieller," Dymally said. "My wife grieved over the decision."
But when it became clear that Democratic leaders would be unable to agree on a consensus candidate, Dymally explained, he was compelled to support Murray because "his time has come." Dymally noted that Murray "brings a lot of experience, a lot of dedication" to the race and has "a lot of dues owed to him by every conceivable Democrat, some past and some present," for his campaign efforts over the years.
Help From Consulting Firm
Murray is being aided by the Los Angeles political consulting firm of Berman & D'Agostino, Dymally said. Among other things, the firm specializes in designing mailers known for their ability to influence voters.
Because of Murray's "own talents as a campaign strategist" skilled in using mailers, Dymally said, he should now be considered the front-runner given "the resources he has available."
For his part, Murray said he was "pleased, very pleased" to have Dymally's endorsement and called it "not unexpected."