INGLEWOOD — The three candidates running for mayor on Nov. 4 have widely varying agendas for promoting commercial growth, reducing crime and helping local schools, but they unanimously identify the city's tarnished image as its No. 1 problem.
Saying that the city has an undeserved reputation as a high-crime area with rampant drug dealers, substandard housing, poor education and depressed business districts, incumbent Mayor Edward Vincent and challengers W. R. (Tony) Draper and William (Bill) Wagstaff have vowed to take steps to improve the city's image.
As for ways to do that, agreement stops there.
Vincent says economic growth will brighten the city's image, while Draper, an Inglewood Unified School District board member, says the city should focus more on educational improvements. Wagstaff, a former Inglewood/Airport Area Chamber of Commerce president, says the city needs to work more closely with school officials and the business community.
Though the election is a nonpartisan race, party politics are playing an increasingly important role.
Six months ago the race for the mayor appeared to be an easy victory for Democrat Vincent, the first black mayor of a city where minorities make up about 80% of the population and where Democrats lead in voter registration. Vincent also has endorsements from powerful Democrats such as Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn.
But Draper and Wagstaff also are black, and the race has taken on a more competitive turn since Draper wedged a split in the Democratic camp with support from local parents groups and school district employees, and Republican Wagstaff began soliciting GOP and independent votes with help from U.S. Senate candidate Ed Zschau and the California Black Republican Council.
In Inglewood, 32,668 of the registered voters are Democrats, 5,392 are Republicans and 3,069 are registered with other political parties or declined to state their affiliation.
If no candidate gets a majority, the two highest vote-getters will compete in a runoff on Jan. 13.
Draper, a longtime education activist, said the city could best change its image by working more closely with the school district to help alleviate classroom overcrowding and to improve educational programs. He said the city should be more receptive to paying for educational and child-care programs that might benefit the entire city.
"If we don't have a good school system, home-buyers will steer clear of the area, and we will not be able to attract businesses because the employment pool will weaken," Draper said.
Wagstaff agrees that more cooperation between the city and the school district is needed but said the city officials also needs to improve its leadership role in the community.
"People in this city have become apathetic because they stopped believing in their leaders," Wagstaff said. "Council meetings are nearly always empty because people think their leaders are not listening to them. I would like to see government more open to input from the residents."
Vincent maintains that he has already started to improve the city's reputation by helping form the Police Department's undercover narcotics task force and by improving the city's tax base through redevelopment.
Construction in Inglewood reached an all-time high during Vincent's tenure, largely because of redevelopment projects on La Cienega Boulevard near the San Diego Freeway, along Century Boulevard and in the downtown area, building officials said.
Vincent said redevelopment projects have already improved those areas, especially in the La Cienega and Century Boulevard redevelopment districts, which had deteriorated since jet planes started flying over the area on their way to Los Angeles International Airport.
"Large jets started flying into LAX around 1965, and consequently a lot of those neighborhoods deteriorated to the point where the apartments and homes decreased in value and things just started to slip," Vincent said, alluding to drug and other crime problems in areas such as the Dixon-Darby/Lockhaven neighborhoods south of Century.
The redevelopment projects he has promoted are helping renew those areas, he said.
The candidates appear to be less divided on other issues such as reducing airport noise, eliminating graffiti and combating drugs and street gangs.
The mayor, who is paid $900 a month for the part-time position, serves a four-year term and votes as a regular City Council member. The city manager handles day-to-day operation of the city.
Here are the candidates' backgrounds and some of their views:
- Draper, 43, an engineering product manager for Hughes Aircraft's radar systems division in El Segundo, is married and has four children.
He has served 3 1/2 years on the Inglewood School Board and is a board member of the Los Angeles County School Trustees Assn.