Local Democrats have good reason to call the Southeast area Green country.
Norwalk City Councilman Cecil N. Green swept seven of eight Southeast cities in Tuesday's St. Patrick's Day special state Senate election, and the party faithful are betting that he can do it again in a May 12 runoff.
But to beat Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk) and win the vacant 33rd District state Senate seat, Green will need to build on the coalition of Latinos, union workers and Democratic loyalists who nearly carried the four-term council member to the state house in Tuesday's primary.
Green was particularly impressive in his hometown of Norwalk, where he won all but one of the 47 precincts, outpolling Grisham by more than 2 to 1 in the district's largest city. He also did well in Santa Fe Springs, Hawaiian Gardens and the unincorporated communities of Los Nietos and South Whittier, all areas with sizable Latino populations. And Green, a private planning and zoning consultant, even edged Grisham in Cerritos, traditionally a Republican stronghold in the largely Democratic Senate district. Bellflower, Artesia and Lakewood also went for Green.
Because Green, 63, did not capture a majority of the votes cast, he must now face runner-up Grisham in the runoff. Green finished with 48% of the vote to Grisham's 43.6%.
Grisham, 64, banked on his name and legislative record as a two-term Assemblyman in the 63rd District to fill the Senate seat vacated by former Sen. Paul Carpenter (D-Cypress), who was elected to a seat on the State Board of Equalization. But Green said Thursday in Sacramento that Grisham has not been visible enough as a legislator.
"It's going to prove out that his lack of activity and lack of representation is going to be his defeat," Green said during an interview outside the Senate chamber in the Capitol where he was meeting with Democratic leaders to map out campaign strategy for the runoff.
The 33rd District spills across two counties, with three-quarters of the district in Southeast Los Angeles County, where Green beat Grisham by a comfortable margin, 50.1% to 42.5%.
In the Orange County communities of Cypress, Los Alamitos, La Palma and Buena Park, Grisham finished with 47% of the vote to Green's 41%.
Grisham "probably worked a little harder in Orange County," Green said. "So, we'll just have to work a little harder (there)."
Grisham has also said he must improve his numbers in Orange County, where about one-quarter of the district's 285,000 registered voters live. Thomas A. Fuentes, Orange County GOP chairman, said lower turnout reflected the fact that Grisham and Green are both from Los Angeles County and most Orange County voters were unfamiliar with them.
Despite talk of shoring up support in Orange County, both candidates said before the election that the key to the race was winning votes in the heart of the district--Norwalk, Cerritos, Bellflower, Lakewood and Downey. If that's true, Green's showing Tuesday was formidable because he
won four of those cities, losing only in Downey, which is considered the most conservative community in the district.
In a district with a rapidly growing Latino population, the Green machine may have benefited from a strong get-out-the-vote push in Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs and Hawaiian Gardens, all cities where Latinos are now in the majority. U.S. Rep. Esteban Torres (D-La Puente) spent several weekends walking precincts for Green, particularly in Santa Fe Springs, where Green crushed Grisham by a 4 to 1 margin.
Late last week, Grisham praised Green's get-out-the-vote effort. "(It) was stupendous and ours obviously was not," he said during an interview on the Assembly floor.
Grisham noted that in the past he has benefited from Democrats who voted for Democrats at the top of their ticket but then crossed over and cast ballots for Republicans for state or local offices. But on Tuesday, he said, the crossover voters were not in evidence.
"The only Democrat that went (to the polls) was a hard-core one-way vote" for Green, Grisham said. "And I didn't get the ones who vote for the man, not the party. I've never experienced that, never having been in a special election before. Nobody walked into the polls undecided."