Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) endorsed Norwalk City Councilman Cecil N. Green on Tuesday to fill the state Senate seat vacated last week by Cypress Democrat Paul B. Carpenter.
Within the next few days, Gov. George Deukmejian is expected to call a special election for April or May to fill the vacancy in the 33rd Senate District, which covers Downey, Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs, Bellflower, Lakewood, Cerritos and Hawaiian Gardens in southeast Los Angeles County and parts of northwest Orange County.
Robert Forsyth, a Roberti spokesman, said the Senate leader decided to support Green, who also has been endorsed by Carpenter, "after many hours of discussion."
Meanwhile, area Democrats have censured Cerritos Councilwoman Diana Needham for endorsing Republican Don Knabe in the race, The Times has learned. For Needham, a Democrat often mentioned as a potential candidate for higher office, the action by the Democratic caucus could mean the loss of endorsements and financial support from the party should she run for a state legislative office.
The 63rd Assembly District caucus, the local arm of the state Democratic party, voted unanimously last Sunday in secret session to censure Needham for two years, sources said.
Needham, who said this is not the first time she has backed a Republican, said she endorsed Knabe, the mayor of Cerritos, because "he's a good friend, a hard worker and would be a good representative" in Sacramento.
The Needham censure is the latest twist in what political observers agree will be a hotly contested race to replace Carpenter, who was elected last November to the state Board of Equalization and assumed his new office last week. The race is especially important to Roberti, who has seen his Democratic majority in the Senate slip. There are 23 Democrats, 15 Republicans, one independent and the 33rd District vacancy.
Roberti said he endorsed Green because he has Carpenter's backing and he has the support of "a lot of local political activists, especially Latinos." Roberti would not say how much money might be funneled into Green's campaign, but he did say that candidates in similar situations have received between $500,000 and $600,000.
Green predicted that "a lot of coffers in Sacramento will be open to me now" as a result of Roberti's endorsement.
Forsyth also said he anticipates that "the majority" of the Democratic Senate caucus will follow Roberti's lead and endorse Green, 62, a member of the Norwalk council since 1974.
Carpenter had held the seat since 1976. Even though Democrats have a voter registration lead over the GOP of 53.8% to 38%, it is regarded as a conservative district, which tends to even the disparity. Also, Republican voters tend to turn out in high percentages for special elections.
Besides Green, other Democrats in the running for Roberti's endorsement include retired Downey Municipal Judge Leon Emerson and former Cypress Mayor Otto Lacayo. Democratic Senate aides said that former Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove), who last November lost a bid for Congress and whose name has been mentioned as a potential Senate candidate, has not figured prominently in recent discussions.
In addition to endorsing Green, it appears that Carpenter will play an active role in the campaign.
"Cecil is not only my neighbor," Carpenter said, "but I feel a personal responsibility after representing this district for 12 years to see that it is left in good hands. Cecil is the right man. . . ."
Lacayo, the only Orange County entrant in the race, said Carpenter has emerged as a major factor in the race. "It appears that I'm not running against Cecil Green or Judge Emerson, but Paul Carpenter," Lacayo said. "He has surfaced as the man behind the throne.
Definitely Not Friends
Like Carpenter, Lacayo is a longtime Cypress resident, but the two are not close. They ran against each other for Assembly in 1974, and in 1982, Lacayo claims Carpenter tried to oust him from the Cypress City Council by financing several opponents. Lacayo not only won reelection to a fourth term, but was the top vote-getter in the race.
Emerson, who acknowledges that Green has a big jump on other Democrats in the field, said he will stay in the race. There had been talk he would drop out if he did not receive Roberti's endorsement.
In addition to Knabe, a top aide to Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana, another candidate on the Republican side is Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk). Another potential GOP candidate is former Hawaiian Gardens Mayor Margaret Vineyard, who ran a close race against Carpenter in 1984.
Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim), Senate Republican caucus chairman, said on Tuesday that Senate Republicans will not endorse a candidate in the primary. "We don't believe it sells well in the local community for Sacramento to play kingmaker," Seymour said.