Inglewood voters sent mixed signals in Tuesday's runoff election, but one message was clear: The four incumbents on the ballot had to go.
Both school board members up for reelection and a city councilman and the city treasurer were defeated.
But how the results will affect the city's politics remains unclear, and may not be known until after a recount in the District 4 City Council race where there was no incumbent. Garland Hardeman, the heavy favorite, had a strong lead until absentee votes went for his opponent, Ervin (Tony) Thomas, by a 6-1 margin. The final count put Thomas on top by nine votes.
In the other city races, Ann Wilk upset incumbent Councilman Bruce U. Smith and Wanda Brown ousted incumbent Treasurer H. Stanley Jones.
In the school board races, PTA leader Zyra McCloud defeated incumbent William Dorn and Lois Hill Hale won easily over incumbent William (Tony) Draper.
Only 12.5% of the city's registered voters turned out for the election, which occurred on the same day that the Lakers' National Basketball Assn. championship was being celebrated at The Forum.
The results were mixed signals for several reasons:
- In a proxy battle being waged in the two council races by Mayor Edward Vincent and Councilman Anthony Scardenzan, voters picked Thomas, one of Vincent's candidates, and Wilk, one of Scardenzan's. Wilk defeated two-term incumbent Smith, who had Vincent's endorsement. Scardenzan gave money to Hardeman's campaign.
- Brown, Vincent's city treasurer candidate, won, but one of the mayor's allies on the school board, Dorn, was defeated.
- Voters also threw out a Vincent adversary on the school board, Draper, who unsuccessfully challenged the mayor for reelection last year.
The outcome of the District 4 race may not be known for some time.
While Hardeman waited at his headquarters Tuesday night, his campaign manager Ralph Franklin and several supporters were at City Hall, celebrating what seemed to be an insurmountable 544-233 lead when the last of the district's eight precincts were counted.
But the party stopped abruptly when it was announced that Thomas received 385 absentee votes to Hardeman's 65 and snatched a 618-609 victory in the election to replace Virgle Benson, who did not seek reelection.
"We will challenge each ballot on its face to determine whether the individuals actually submitted the ballots," said Hardeman, a 30-year-old Los Angeles police officer. "We will try to establish a pattern of fraud. I can't believe that many absentee ballots were submitted for my opponent, at least not legitimately. I will review my legal options. I'm confident justice will prevail."
Hardeman, calling Vincent "unscrupulous and unethical," said in an interview that he received reports of instances where Thomas and Vincent personally tried to coerce elderly voters into casting absentee ballots for Thomas. Hardeman had outpolled Thomas 48.2% to 29.6% in a four-man primary field.
Both Thomas and Vincent denied any impropriety.
Many Hardeman supporters were visibly upset, but Hardeman remained stoic.
"I'm upset, but I'm a police officer," Hardeman said. "I've seen people shot. I've seen people jump to their deaths. I've learned to maintain my composure in these situations."
He also said that he is getting married this weekend and does not want anything to interfere with that.
Meanwhile, at the raucous election night celebration at Vincent's permanent campaign headquarters, he and Thomas said it was all a matter of hard work.
"A lot of people don't have a chance to go to the polls," Thomas said about those who cast absentee ballots for him. "They leave early in the morning and get home late at night. These are the type of people who will only vote if it's convenient for them."
"We started early," Vincent said when asked how the campaign got so many absentee ballots. "Actually, I think we got a lot more of them than they counted."
City Atty. Howard Rosten said that Hardeman would have to challenge the election through City Clerk Hermanita Harris.
If Harris rejects the appeal and certifies the election, it would go before the City Council. If it, too, certifies the election--which is likely, because Vincent and his allies control the current council--Hardeman could file suit.
Wilk will become the first woman on the council since 1963. She defeated Smith, 571 votes to 550, as he tried for a third term in District 3.
A former member of the school board, Wilk led throughout the ballot counting. She credited her victory to the support she got from women, whom she targeted with a special mailer pointing out the city had not had a woman on the council in almost a quarter-century. She had trailed Smith by 240 votes in the primary.
She said she plans to be an independent on the board, that she hopes she can work with Vincent and the other members of the council.