"In politics, no good deed goes unpunished," lamented Democrat Mervyn M. Dymally when asked about yet another in the controversies that have dogged him through most of his long career as an officeholder.
The latest is a federal grand jury probe into the financial problems of an obscure Raleigh, N.C., college that Dymally says he was only trying to rescue from bankruptcy.
The investigation comes at a bad time, what with Dymally asking the voters of the 31st Congressional District to give him a fourth term in office in the Nov. 4 elections just nine days away.
It is providing fresh campaign fuel for Dymally's Republican challenger, businessman Jack McMurray, who terms it another example of how the incumbent "embarrasses and disgraces his constituents."
But the 60-year-old Dymally, who started as a state assemblyman in 1962, heatedly denies any wrongdoing in the Raleigh matter, which involves a $100,000 contribution from the Japanese whaling industry to a Washington think-tank headed by the congressman.
Dymally said he turned the money over to the predominantly black Shaw University as part of an effort to solve its financial problems.
On top of that, he said, "The situation is so bad with Shaw that I had to borrow (an additional) $80,000 to cover a bounced check they wrote for staff health insurance."
According to a story in a Raleigh newspaper last Sunday, at least part of the Japanese money was used to employ a full-time Dymally aide, Theta W. Shipp, as a fund-raiser and Washington contact for the college.
Dymally said the $100,000 contribution from the whaling group grew out of "negotiations with the Japanese to do more for blacks" and he denied published reports that he has supported Japan's position on continued whaling in the face of a worldwide moratorium on hunting the giant sea mammals.
The truth is, he said, he has been merely an observer, not a delegate, at various whaling conventions and he basically supports the U.S. position on the moratorium.
Still, the McMurray campaign sees an unexpected opening, likening Dymally's current problems to the allegations of corruption that figured in his defeat for a second term as the state's lieutenant governor in 1978.
The accusations, which never resulted in any charges after a lengthy FBI investigation, tarnished Dymally's reputation with the state's voters, who picked Republican Mike Curb for the post.
But obviously Dymally does not expect to lose another office over his "good deeds" in Raleigh. His problem, if he has one, seems minor compared to those that finally turned 31st District voters against his predecessor in 1980.
In the primary that year, they gave Charles H. Wilson, who had held the 31st District post for nine terms, only 15% of their votes--thus paving the way for Dymally's comeback as their new congressman.
Among other things, Wilson was accused by the House Ethics Committee of converting campaign funds to his personal use and lying about a $600 wedding gift from South Korean lobbyist Tongsun Park. The House censured him.
Still, Republican McMurray, 56, who is mostly Filipino descent despite his Irish surname, plans to make the most of the Raleigh episode in his long-shot bid to oust Dymally.
It's a long shot because the district, which runs from the border of Watts south along both sides of the Harbor Freeway to the edge of San Pedro, has sent only Democrats to Congress since the 1930s. And 71% of the voters are still registered Democrats.
Dymally, though short of campaign cash at the end of the third quarter this year, has the incumbent's access to the kind of contributors and organizations that normally rise up, even at the last minute, to defend the party stronghold.
Still, Republican McMurray hopes that a last-minute spark from Raleigh, falling on smoldering embers from the past, might ignite a voter rebellion against Dymally.
"The message from Raleigh reinforces what many in the district already know," said McMurray, who lives in Harbor Gateway. "Mr. Dymally is too busy performing his so-called good deeds in faraway places to take much of an interest in the needs of his people here at home.
"The people know his penchant for supporting radical cults and Third World causes. So they are asking why he doesn't run for some office in the Caribbean or the Middle East or Central America, instead of in the 31st District."
As examples of the "penchant," McMurray cited familiar reports that Dymally endorsed the work of the People's Temple before more than 900 of its members committed mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978; that he tried to rally congressional support for the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who was convicted of income-tax evasion charges in 1982, and that earlier this year he backed the right of members of a Black Hebrew sect to use false names on U.S. passports in order to enter Israel.