It was all smiles and handshakes until state Senate candidate Cecil Green stopped at Joe Meyers' house in Norwalk. The retired truck driver was bugged, and he let Green, a Norwalk councilman, know it. A neighbor around the corner was illegally keeping bees in his backyard and they were buzzing the entire neighborhood, making it tough to barbecue or walk at night along LeFloss Avenue.
Green tried to switch subjects, asking Meyers to vote for him May 12 for the 33rd Senate District. But Meyers found a way to bring back the bees and sting Green again.
"Hey, if you can't solve our bee problem, what makes you think you can go to Sacramento and fix anything?" Meyers asked, pushing back the brim of his ball cap. "You're just a councilman."
But Green, a 63-year-old Democrat, wants to be more. He wants to be a state senator, representing a district he believes mirrors his own values. The son of a carpenter, Green preaches the work ethic, a theme that plays well in this predominantly blue-collar district of single-family homes and shopping centers.
He is an uncomplicated man with a quick temper, a hawkish look and a zeal to go to Sacramento as the first state senator ever from Norwalk.
To accomplish that he must defeat Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk). At first glance, the two men are look-alikes. Less than a year in age separates them, and both are regarded as political conservatives. But Green draws the line there, believing that his almost legendary connections in the district will set him apart.
The former muffler shop owner contends that his roots in the district go much deeper--35 years as a resident and businessman in Norwalk, the largest city in the 33rd. He said he helped incorporate the city 30 years ago and now is championing its rebirth as the council's leading advocate of redevelopment. He points to $165 million in new building in the city since 1984 as proof that he can help make things happen in a big way.
The Republicans certainly took notice after Green rallied from way back to nearly win the 33rd Senate District seat outright in the March primary--an almost unthinkable feat at the outset of the campaign. He did it with a broad base of Democratic support and nearly $800,000 in cash and staff from around the state. Party leaders are doubling their support in the runoff in hopes that Green's folksy character can win enough votes to keep the seat vacated by former state Sen. Paul Carpenter (D-Cypress) in Democratic hands.
Green knows the race has implications well beyond the district as both parties wrestle for control of the statehouse and an advantage when reapportionment of districts comes in 1990.
Still he admits he is uncomfortable with the amount of money being spent, and tries to justify it by saying "everything costs 10 times what it did a few years ago."
Record spending in pursuit of elective office is nothing new to Green. The four-term council member spent $55,000 last April to win reelection in Norwalk in what he figured was his final political campaign before retiring from public life.
But when Carpenter decided to run for the state Board of Equalization, Green said he started thinking about replacing his longtime friend in the state Senate.
"I decided I still had something to offer," Green said recently. "I just hope the voters agree."
Considered Dominant Figure
In recent years, Green has been considered Norwalk's most dominant political figure. Critics and friends alike say much of his success is tied to his years as a mechanic, operating a string of repair shops, which he sold in the mid-1970s. Through his business, Green built a network of contacts that he has continued to tap over the years for contributions and support, and it is no different this time around. Many of those longtime friends walked precincts and telephoned voters in the primary, urging them to the polls.
"When it comes to running this city, he's a straightforward, no-nonsense kind of guy," said Phyllis Eliasen, a Norwalk resident and City Hall observer since 1950. "When he says he'll do something, he does it. . . . He has always been very fair."
But Green's critics disagree. "He's not the grandpa type they are trying to paint," said one former Norwalk councilman. "He is a hard-hitting type who intimidates and bullies people when he does not get his way. . . . And he has a temper that flashes without warning."
In one celebrated incident a year ago, Green and former City Manager Raymond Gibbs stood toe-to-toe shouting obscenities at each other that were overheard outside Gibbs' office. The argument, prompted by Green's attempt to censure another councilman for releasing city records to a local activist, was broken up by Mayor Bob White, who physically restrained Green. Green wanted to discuss the possible censure of Councilman Lou Banas at an open council meeting, but Gibbs questioned whether it was wise to air the matter in public.