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Candidates Compete With Lakers for Voters' Interest

June 18, 1987|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | Times Staff Writer

Not everyone knew it was election day in Inglewood.

For most people, the event of the day was the triumphant appearance of the National Basketball Assn. world champion Los Angeles Lakers at the Forum, where thousands of purple-and-gold-clad revelers hailed their heroes.

Meanwhile, a 12.5% voter turnout left many polling places about as empty as the Boston Garden.

But the political nonchalance of the majority Tuesday was matched by the fervor of an intensely committed few, for whom Inglewood politics is as passionate and consuming an interest as Laker basketball.

It was not Chicago, where patronage armies fight election-day turnout battles block to block and house to house. But hundreds of well-organized volunteers prowled the city streets in search of elusive voters, driven by rivalries between political blocs that have sparred since the spring primary campaign.

The word machine is often heard in Inglewood, especially to describe the political organization of Mayor Edward Vincent. The mayor prefers to call it a "hard-working organization." In any case, his permanent campaign headquarters at Imperial Highway and Crenshaw Boulevard was busy Tuesday getting out the vote for City Council candidate Ervin Thomas.

A dozen people worked the phones, checking to see who had voted. A stream of vehicles moved in and out of the parking lot, on the way to canvass neighborhoods and take voters to the polls.

But election day was only the culmination of the vote-getting.

"It's all in the absentee ballots," confided Thomas supporter Mildred McNair, referring to a concerted absentee ballot drive that ended up giving Thomas a nine-vote victory. "You watch."

Vincent's was not the only political organization in town Tuesday. Cars plastered with literature of opposing candidates sped past each other. A sound-equipped van exhorting voters to elect Lois Hill Hale gave competition to an ice cream wagon just south of Imperial Highway.

"I'm a thorough person," said Hill Hale, who spent more than $23,000 to unseat W. R. (Tony) Draper from the school board. She proved it by fielding a fleet of 20 cars as well as the two sound-equipped vans.

And declining to be upstaged by the Lakers, Hill Hale armed herself with flyers picturing her with Lakers star Magic Johnson and waded into the rally crowd to press the flesh.

Sporting a distinctive white uniform of sun visors and sweat shirts with the words "Parents Take Action," about 100 volunteers for another successful school board candidate, Zyra McCloud, mobilized through the city. Many had white-clad children in tow as they went door to door.

Breathless with the enthusiasm of what seemed to be one of the election's most emotional campaigns, McCloud worker Rosalyn Miller called her first foray into politics "heartwarming. A lot of people who realized they weren't alone in their concerns for their children got together and worked hard."

In a modest office suite on South La Brea Avenue, City Council candidate Garland Hardeman pored over a computer printout showing precincts where he did well in the primary.

His staff of about 20 workers included his fiancee, Grace Garland, and two energetic members of the Compton Young Republicans and Democrats organization, who said they were inspired by Hardeman's youth and political promise.

"This is the man," said Seth Francois as Hardeman dispatched a supporter to check for problems at the Lockhaven Center polling place, a scene of a confrontation with Mayor Vincent's forces during the primary.

Hardeman and most of the other candidates took to the streets in the critical late-afternoon period before the polls closed, greeting residents and moving in little phalanxes that drew stares from neighborhood children.

The election-day air was thick with accusations of unfair tactics, chief among them the removal of campaign signs.

Hill Hale said she was informed by a caller early Monday morning that two men had just stolen a large billboard worth $150 from over the front door of her campaign headquarters at 111th Street and Crenshaw Boulevard.

"They said two guys got up on a ladder, took it away and sped off in a truck," Hill Hale said. "I want my sign back."

Other candidates also reported numerous instances of signs being systematically removed or torn down from in front of homes, but police said they received only a few complaints about such activity.

As evening fell and police officers shepherded a line of cars carrying vote boxes through the civic center driveway, campaign workers hurried into City Hall to get good seats for the vote count, spectators now to one of Inglewood's best-loved sports: politics.

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