Curtis R. Tucker said he doesn't get excited about campaigning for the 50th District Assembly seat anymore.
The 68-year-old Democratic incumbent said that after winning six consecutive elections, carrying at least 70% of the vote each time, his reelection bid is almost a welcome distraction from his "workaholic" schedule.
With Democratic voters outnumbering Republicans four to one, the district's so-called "political godfather" has reason to be confident.
He is so confident, in fact, that in an interview this week Tucker jokingly asked: "Who's running against me again? . . . I forget his name."
His name is Stephen R. Wiley, and the Republican challenger is not amused by what he calls Tucker's "apparent arrogance toward me and the community I am trying to represent."
Wiley, 35, says that Tucker has been shunning his district's needs since the former public health officer was named chairman of the Assembly Health Committee in 1983. In particular, Wiley said, Tucker has overlooked communities on the west side of his district, including Westchester and El Segundo.
A lifetime El Segundo resident who owns an automobile parts distribution firm there, Wiley said that Tucker pays little attention to the district's west side because it is a Republican stronghold.
"With his political power base and voter constituency based in Inglewood, he figures that he just doesn't need these people or their votes to win," said Wiley, noting that the area east of the San Diego Freeway is mostly Democratic, except for a few Republican pockets in northwest Inglewood.
Tucker, however, said Wiley is "merely blowing hot air" and insists that he is "in constant contact with El Segundo businesses and city officials."
"I represent the entire district, not just portions of it," said Tucker. "I have always lent a helping hand to the west side when it needed it, and I have never refused an invitation from anyone in any part of the district."
But Wiley and other west side community and Republican leaders say Tucker's attachment to their area is limited to occasional appearances at civic and school events.
"My idea of leadership is not going to the El Segundo Christmas Parade once a year and waving at the crowd," Wiley said.
"The people here need real commitment, and Tucker has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the west side's pleas for help in dealing with traffic and airport noise problems. He is entirely too much of an Inglewood politician."
Tucker, who was Inglewood's first black elected official when he won a City Council seat in 1973, remains very active in that city's politics and regularly provides political contributions and endorsments for candidates for the Inglewood school board and City Council.
Tucker filed a campaign statement Oct. 8 showing that he received contributions of $240,620 in the previous 12 months. As chairman of the health committee, Tucker attracts hefty contributions from medical and insurance groups.
Wiley contends that those contributions dictate Tucker's priorities, but Tucker insists that he is not influenced by campaign contributors who could be affected by legislation before his committee.
Tucker points with pride to a long list of legislation that he helped push through, including laws that standardize educational requirements for paramedics and mandate that all new homes be equipped with gas valves that automatically shut off during an earthquake.
A native of Union, La., Tucker took a roundabout route into politics. After 20 years in the Army, he moved to Los Angeles and eventually to Inglewood, where he worked for 15 years as an investigator for the Los Angeles County Health Department. After serving on the Inglewood City Council, he was elected to the Assembly in 1974.
He has held a grip on the District 50 seat since then, with support steadily increasing as the district shifted from a predominantly white area to one in which 61% of the roughly 295,000 residents are black, 20% are Latino and 2% are Asian.
Of the district's 139,230 voters, 78% are Democrats and 17% are Republicans.
A victory in the November election would rank Tucker sixth in seniority in the 80-member Assembly and second in the 27-member Los Angeles County Assembly delegation after Tom Bane (D-Los Angeles.)
Wiley has the support of local Republican organizations and powerful legislators like Assembly minority leader and former USC schoolmate Patrick Nolan (R-Glendale). Observers say that Wiley is waging the strongest and most organized effort to unseat Tucker in more than a decade.
Wiley, who reported about $2,000 in campaign donations--less than 1% of the amount Tucker has collected--said he decided to make a bid for the Assembly seat in order to keep Tucker from running unopposed.
"Without competition people get lazy," Wiley said. "I think I have said some things about Curtis Tucker that have not been said about him in many a year, and if it smarts him a little bit then maybe he will do something about it."
He said his campaign for the Assembly is more a bid for attention than for victory.
"Win or lose, if I am able to force Curtis Tucker to focus back on his Assembly district . . . and start paying more attention to the west side of the district, then I have accomplished what I have set out to do," he said.
Wiley said his goals if elected would include pushing for more stringent noise standards at Los Angeles International Airport and assisting local governments in fighting crime and boosting local business.