More than two dozen of Los Angeles' most influential black politicians and civic leaders met Friday behind closed doors to begin a formal search for a successor to departing City Councilman Dave Cunningham and to try to avert a divisive political campaign.
Mayor Tom Bradley called for the private session of state legislators, a congressman, local officeholders and representatives from churches, community organizations and civic groups. He emerged from the meeting to announce that he will form a committee to begin mapping ways to find suitable candidates for the 10th District council seat.
That seat will be vacated Sept. 30 when Cunningham resigns from office to "pursue life as a private citizen." Cunningham, a black who also attended Friday's meeting, has represented the Southwest Los Angeles district since 1973, and a number of black leaders have expressed concern that a flood of candidates hoping to replace Cunningham could split the black vote.
Under the recently approved redistricting plan, the council district rose from 38% to 44% black but it also includes substantial numbers of Asian, Latino and Anglo voters.
'Will Not Preclude Anybody'
"We did not want to splinter the 10th District, so that was the purpose behind (the meeting)," Bradley told reporters after the 90-minute meeting.
The mayor, who once represented the 10th District as a council member, said he will name a committee within a week to establish guidelines for selecting one or more nominees for Cunningham's seat.
"It will not preclude anybody running," Bradley said, "and obviously you are going to have people who would run even though they were not selected as the choice of the group. We're simply seeking expression from the community so that we get the maximum support and a united effort behind the chosen nominee."
Unifying behind a single nominee or select group of nominees will consolidate the key financial and political support in the black community that he and Cunningham enjoyed when they ran for the council seat, the mayor said. He added that he favors leaving the seat vacant until a successor can be chosen during city elections next April.
Bradley, who had handpicked Cunningham as his successor as 10th District councilman in 1973, is known to still have enormous influence in the politics of the district.
John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, agreed, saying that any candidate would be "unwise to ignore the wishes or will of this group, and particularly the mayor."
"We would not like to see this seat lost to the black community. That's a real concern some of us have," added Mack, whose organization hosted Friday's meeting at its headquarters in the Crenshaw area.
Woman Candidate Urged
Although names of specific candidates were not discussed during the meeting, participants said there was a concerted push by a number of community leaders to back a black woman candidate.
Mark Ridley-Thomas, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Los Angeles, said, "The presence of women as viable candidates was a major concern raised by a number of people" and would get the committee's "immediate and specific attention."
"I personally favor a black woman," said state Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). "We have no elected black woman in municipal government today . . . and I think it's time."
Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who ran Cunningham's 1973 campaign, said she also hopes that a black woman will be elected to the council. Waters added that she already has heard from 11 candidates seeking an endorsement, including a number of women, but she declined to identify them.
Among the women frequently mentioned as possible candidates are Marguerite Archie-Hudson, a member of the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees; Myrlie Evers, wife of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers; Lois Hill Hale, chief deputy to Sen. Watson; community activist Eunice Renee Russell, and school board President Rita Walters.
Mentioned as possible male candidates are Homer Broome Jr., vice president of the city Board of Public Works; the Rev. H. H. Brookins, a prominent bishop with strong political ties; former state Sen. Nate Holden; broadcaster Truman Jacques; businessmen Skip Cooper and Coy Sallis, and Cunningham deputies Greg Irish and Dennis Nishikawa.