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Crime Dominates Debate of Democrats in 54th Assembly Race

May 04, 1986|MARK GLADSTONE | Times Staff Writer

On Compton's Amantha Avenue along the western edge of the 54th Assembly District, the ranch homes are fortified with heavy metal doors and wrought-iron bars on the windows to deter burglars.

Across the district, on Muroc Street in the northeast corner of Bellflower, the houses look less like fortresses. Still, some residents have pasted warnings on the windows: "Neighborhood Watch Program in Force. If I don't call the police, my neighbor will."

Candidates in the June 3 Democratic primary say these are the outward signs that the 54th District voters are anxious about their personal safety and about crime on the streets.

At a recent campaign forum, the candidates focused on ways to curb crime, but few mentioned specific legislation they would support or introduce to deal with the problems they cited.

On the high-profile issue of capital punishment, all but one candidate--Willard Murray--said they support the death penalty.

On the reconfirmation of state Supreme Court Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird on the November ballot, opinion went in every direction from support to opposition to the stand that legislators should stay away from the issue.

Many of the Democrats also have scrambled for endorsements from law enforcement-related lobbying and research organizations.

Nine Democrats are competing for the seat held by Assemblyman Frank Vicencia (D-Bellflower), who is retiring after six terms. Because Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1, the Democrats regard the district as a safe seat.

Besides Murray, an aide to Rep. Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton), the Democratic candidates are Dan Branstine, a former Lakewood city councilman; Thomas Cochee, a former Compton police chief; Doris Davis, a former Compton mayor; Marty Israel, a self-described consumer advocate; Ray O'Neal, a former Bellflower city councilman; Kent A. Spieller, a Bellflower lawyer; Larry Ward, a member of the Bellflower school board, and Ed Waters, a complaints investigator for a project designed to relocate people displaced by construction of the Century Freeway.

The Democratic nominee will face Republican Paul Zeltner, a Lakewood city councilman and former sheriff's captain, and Vikki Murdock, of the Peace and Freedom Party, in the November general election.

During a candidate forum held in Progress Park in Paramount and in interviews, the candidates expressed the following views about crime:

- Branstine has based much of his campaign around attacks on Justice Bird. Branstine said that he opposes Bird because she has voted to turn down every death penalty case she has heard on the bench.

"People want to see the death penalty imposed," Branstine said. The death penalty has not been carried out in California since 1967.

Branstine also said he would like to prohibit convicts from being released on parole "in cases of violent crimes."

- Cochee, Compton police chief from 1973 to 1976, said that if he is elected he will insist that state authorities launch a special program to crack down on drug sales in Compton.

Cochee said he supports programs to create jobs "to cut down on the idleness that leads to drug use and the feelings of hopelessness and despair" that results in criminal behavior.

On the death penalty, Cochee said he personally opposes the state taking a human life, but he would uphold the current death penalty law.

As for Justice Bird, Cochee said at the forum that she should not be reconfirmed; but in an interview later, Cochee said he "would rather not take a position" because he thinks Bird's confirmation has become too politicized.

- Davis said she would work "to stiffen" the penalties for drug dealers and would seek state funds to build more prison cells.

Davis, in an interview, said she is not opposed to the death penalty, but before it is imposed she would like to make sure it is done fairly and in a way that would not discriminate against blacks or other minority groups.

On Bird's confirmation, Davis said candidates should not take a position and allow the people to decide in November. Still, Davis forcefully defended Bird as "a qualified jurist," who is being targeted by Republicans "merely because she's a woman. . . . "

- Murray said that he would increase the sentences for certain unspecified drug-related offenses. He also joined Davis in supporting construction of more prisons and said that he would support a new state prison in Los Angeles County--but not in the 54th District.

Murray said he plans to support all the Supreme Court justices on the November ballot, including Bird, in order to maintain "an independent judiciary."

Of all the candidates, Murray was the only one to oppose the death penalty. He asserted that the death penalty has not acted as a deterrent to criminals in states where it has been implemented. Murray also said that where it has been carried out, the death sentence has been disproportionately imposed against the poor.

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