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Democrats See Green Win as Omen of Future Gains

May 14, 1987|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

Norwalk Councilman Cecil N. Green's victory in the 33rd state Senate District this week promises to shake up the political landscape in Southeast Los Angeles County.

Green's stunning win Tuesday over two-term Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk) creates a key City Council vacancy in Norwalk, the district's largest city.

And it leaves a politically wounded Grisham with the prospect of a stiff challenge next year should he seek a third term in the 63rd Assembly District. As Green claimed victory, at least three local Democrats were talking confidently about their chances against Grisham in an Assembly showdown.

"Wayne now has the tag of a loser . . . and he can be beaten," proclaimed Marshall Story, chairman of the 63rd Assembly District caucus, the local arm of the state Democratic party. Saying he may run against Grisham, Story added: "This election shows that Wayne Grisham has never been a credible candidate."

Return of Party Hailed

Democrats across the district were hailing the return of the party following Green's strong showing.

On the victory stand, surrounded by some of the state's leading Democrats, Green told 500 noisy supporters on election night: "We're back. . . . We have shown that good old Democratic politics is back in high gear in this district."

Districtwide, Green finished with 44,138 votes or 53.8% of the ballots cast, while Grisham received 36,823 votes or 44.9%. Two minor party candidates, Libertarian Lee Connelly and Peace and Freedom Party member Ed Evans each received less than 1% of the votes.

As in the primary, Green's strength was again the Los Angeles County portion of the district, where he captured 56.5% of the vote to Grisham's 42.3%. In his hometown of Norwalk, a city of nearly 90,000 residents, Green won all 46 precincts. He also did well in Santa Fe Springs, Hawaiian Gardens and the unincorporated communities of Los Nietos and South Whittier, all areas with sizeable Latino populations.

Green Lost Only in Downey

The only city in the Southeast area that Green lost was conservative Downey, and even there Grisham had only a slight edge. In analyzing his poor showing, Grisham said he failed to win the crossover vote in cities like Downey and Cerritos, where conservative Democrats often vote for Republicans, particularly in general elections.

"But this was a special election and people voted right along partisan lines," he said Wednesday morning. "That's what hurt us."

At 63, Green entered the race as the underdog against Grisham, a two-term Assemblyman who had much wider name recognition in the district that cuts across southeast Los Angeles County and northwest Orange County. But Green, backed by powerful state Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), won key endorsements from labor, local educators and Latinos to build a formidable political base.

Rep. Esteban Torres (D-Pico Rivera) said it was no accident that Green won wide support from Latinos. "We made sure that (Green) walked a lot of those neighborhoods, the barrios, where most politicians avoid," said Torres, who spent the last three weekends before the election phoning voters and coordinating precinct walks. "I think for once Hispanics believe they had a shot at electing someone who cares about them, so they voted. . . . They are now a force in this district."

Another Latino in Green's campaign was Norwalk Councilman Marcial (Rod) Rodriguez, who served as campaign chairman. Rodriguez said Tuesday night that he might run for Grisham's Assembly seat next year.

"There's little doubt that Grisham is now in trouble," Rodriguez said. "He backed the governor on education and Medi-Cal (cuts) and that's not very popular in this area."

While Rodriguez and Story say they may challenge Grisham, retired Downey Municipal Judge Leon Emerson, said he definitely will seek the Democratic nomination in the 63rd District next year.

A disappointed Grisham said Wednesday that he will seek reelection next year and will not run for the Senate again.

On election night, the 64-year-old Grisham said his defeat was "devastating . . . but it's a reality . . . . There's nothing wrong with my opponent. He's a city councilman from Norwalk. He's a very nice person. But he should not have won the election."

A businessman and resident in Norwalk since the early 1950s, Green sold himself as the "guy-next door" who understood the needs and concerns of the 275,000 registered voters in the largely suburban, blue-collar district where Democrats hold a registration edge, but at times have difficulty winning because of the area's conservative flavor.

"To win in a swing district you need the right candidate, and that was Cecil," said Roberti, who interviewed several Democratic contenders in January before endorsing Green. Much of the $1.5 million spent on the Green campaign came from Roberti-controlled organizations. "You have to be somebody who has the roots in the area, knows the language of the people and can articulate their concerns. . . ."

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