Drugs, crime, the economy and a proposed pay raise for the mayor have dominated the campaign as seven candidates vie for two Inglewood City Council seats on the April 7 ballot.
In District 3, incumbent Bruce U. Smith is challenged by engineer Claude Lataillade and former school board member Ann Wilk.
Councilman Virgle Benson did not file for reelection in District 4 and three political newcomers and a former candidate are battling to take his place.
Garland Hardeman, Ervin (Tony) Thomas and Joseph Young, who are each seeking elective office in Inglewood for the first time, along with William Jenkins, who placed a distant second to Benson in 1983, are engaged in a campaign that has been marked by accusations of carpetbagging and cronyism.
As of last week, Smith reported raising more than $14,000 for the campaign. None of the other candidates had raised more than $3,000.
If no one gets more than 50% of the votes in a district, a runoff will be held June 9.
Smith, 67, is seeking election for a third term in his northwest Inglewood district and has the endorsement of Mayor Edward Vincent.
Both of his opponents say he has lost contact with his constituents.
"For the last four years, at least, Bruce has not had the best concerns of the district in mind," said Wilk, a 54-year-old housewife. "I don't think he's been an independent representative for the people of the district."
Wilk was on the school board for one term, losing a reelection bid in 1983.
Lataillade, 36, said it is time for younger leadership.
"We need an active, vigorous councilman in the district, working with all aspects of the community," Lataillade said. "Bruce has just not been active in that regard. That's not only my own personal perspective, but the people in the district. He's not doing anything. Maybe he's burnt out."
Smith, an Inglewood businessman, said that he has not lost touch with his district and has an "open door" policy with constituents.
"I answer not less than three calls a day and I have yet to not return a call," Smith said. "The people of my district elected me to represent them and that's what I do. I hold a block club captains' meeting every other month. I don't know how much closer I can get to them."
Smith said that he is running on his record.
"During my term as a councilman, there has been a 4% reduction in crime per year over the last six years," Smith said. "We've done that by adding 17 police officers in the past seven years."
He also said that he's been influential in forming the Neighborhood Watch program in the city.
"There were no Neighborhood Watches eight years ago. There are over 240 of them now," Smith said. "I try to push them everywhere I go."
Lataillade, a computer analyst at TRW Inc., has emphasized an anti-drug campaign.
"Even though the crime data have gone down, the drug-related component has grown steadily," Lataillade said. "It's that awareness that people are responding to."
He said Inglewood should consider subcontracting with private security firms to patrol drug-plagued areas, with the city paying part of the cost and residents the rest. He also said drug education should be stressed more heavily in the schools. He credited his experience as a volunteer drug counselor at a rehabilitation center in Saugus with providing him with insight into the problem.
Wilk said she would stress the educational aspects in any drug program.
"The police cannot be everywhere," Wilk said. "We need to start educating the children on how not to go along with peer pressure.
"We also need programs for the kids after school. We have a problem with latch-key kids. It has to be in the elementary schools. Once the kids are in high school, it's too late."
Wilk is also concerned that Inglewood has lost two chain department stores, Boston Stores and J. C. Penney, and is losing another, Sears. She said that the downtown area is not attractive to the family shopper.
"What do you have here now, except for small stores?" Wilk said. "You also have to pay to park. If something could be done to remove the meters, that might help."
She said that the council should consider turning the downtown area into an international marketplace.
"We need to offer something unique," Wilk said.
Lataillade said the council should offer appropriate incentives, including financial ones, to attract new business.
Both challengers expressed concern about a downtown theater that shows X-rated movies.
"We're a small community. What do we need a porno theater for?" Wilk said.
Smith said the council could do little about the department stores leaving. "The J. C. Penney building was bought and the man who bought it bought up their lease," Smith said.
"Sears, Roebuck is building a new store in Los Angeles and they're combining this store and the Pico store into one plant," he said. "The reason L.A. got the store was that it gave Sears a piece of property to build on. Inglewood doesn't have a piece big enough.