Edward K. Waters is shooting for a political career in Sacramento that would match his success on the basketball court.
The lanky, 6-foot, 2-inch Waters played guard in the mid-1970s for Eastern Washington State University and set the school's record for assists.
Waters has shelved his sneakers for black dress shoes to walk precincts in the 54th Assembly District. In the Nov. 4 general election, Waters, 31, who outscored eight other Democrats in the June primary, is matched against Republican nominee Paul E. Zeltner, 61, a Lakewood city councilman.
In their only joint appearance, Oct. 17 in Bellflower, the two candidates angrily traded charges. Zeltner assailed Waters as a carpetbagger. Waters labeled Zeltner's council expenses as excessive.
Indeed, the campaign debate has revolved around the personalities and styles of the two candidates as Waters and Zeltner have taken parallel positions on such issues as the death penalty, which both support, and the reconfirmation of state Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird, which each opposes.
Waters has sought to establish his own identity and emerge from the long political shadow cast by his mother, Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who is known for her feisty rhetoric on behalf of liberal causes.
Rookie candidate Waters has been coached by Richard Ross, who is on leave as chief of staff for Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), and other Brown campaign aides. Further, the Waters campaign has been heavily financed by Brown and Assemblywoman Waters.
Nonetheless, Waters--who quit a government job earlier this year to campaign full time--said, "I'll be my own man."
If elected, not only would Waters be one of the Assembly's youngest members, but the Waters family would make history as the Legislature's first mother-son combination, a prospect that does not appeal to all of the district's Democrats.
"Although Ed Waters may have learned a lot at his mother's knee, there is no substitute for experience," said Jacqueline Rynerson, a Lakewood councilwoman and Democrat who supports Zeltner.
With a broad smile and the persistence of a door-to-door salesman, Waters has sought out voters to talk about the campaign, which he regards almost as a crusade to bring together the diverse sections of the district.
The 54th District stretches from urbanized and heavily black Compton and Willowbrook through the growing Latino community of Paramount to the suburban and primarily white tracts of Bellflower, Lakewood and East Long Beach.
Campaign consultants estimate that about 30% of the district's voters are blacks; they are overwhelmingly registered as Democrats. Waters, who is black, focused the early part of his campaign on courting the black community and is now plugging away in the predominantly white suburbs.
Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1 in the district, which has been represented for the past 14 years by Assemblyman Frank Vicencia (D-Bellflower). Vicencia, who has endorsed Waters, is retiring to devote time to his insurance business and his family.
Besides Zeltner, Waters is opposed by Peace and Freedom Party candidate Vikki Murdock, 38, an anthropology major at California State University, Long Beach.
Seems at Ease With Press
In a unique twist for a candidate, Waters initially shied away from interviews. He now seems at ease handling questions from the press.
"After you campaign for nine months, you begin to stand on your feet," he said. "I've always liked talking to people and this gives me the opportunity."
In stumping the district, Waters sounds traditional themes of cracking down on crime, improving the education system by requiring computer classes and attracting jobs by pumping money into economic development programs.
Waters' conservative views prompted Allan Hoffenblum, Zeltner's campaign coordinator, to crack, "Waters is to the right of Barry Goldwater."
Assemblywoman Waters acknowledged that her son is more conservative in his views and that they disagree about Bird, whom she supports, and the death penalty, which she opposes. Still, she said: "I support people who sometimes differ from me on the big issues. I think he's a good human being."
The Waters family agrees on some issues. For instance, Assemblywoman Waters authored legislation signed in September by Gov. George Deukmejian to require the withdrawal of up to $12 billion worth of public investments in companies that do business in South Africa. Ed Waters served last year as the Los Angeles coordinator for the Free South Africa Movement, which has protested the presence of the South African Consulate in Beverly Hills. He said the protests inspired him to run for office because of the way people rallied to oppose apartheid.
In the primary, several of Waters' Democratic opponents asserted that the assemblywoman urged him to run. But she denied asking him to enter the race, and Waters said his mother "never tried to plot a political course for me" or prod him to seek office.