Inglewood Councilman Daniel Tabor filed papers Wednesday to run for the 50th District seat of seven-term Assemblyman Curtis Tucker (D-Inglewood), the powerful chairman of the Assembly Health Committee who has consistently won reelection by huge margins.
"He is committing political suicide," Tucker said.
Tabor, 32, a two-term city councilman, cast himself as a young candidate willing to offer a new style of grass-roots leadership and said Tucker has lost touch with his constituents.
Tucker, 69, has been referred to as "the elder statesman" and "the godfather" of the district, which takes in parts of Westchester, Inglewood, El Segundo and South Los Angeles. He has been Health Committee chairman since 1983.
Tabor, who had been discussing a candidacy against Tucker for months, said "It's time for a change. I don't think I'm committing political suicide. This candidacy is real. I plan to let voters know who I am and offer them a choice."
As Tucker pointed out, Tabor faces tough odds. The assemblyman has commanded consistently impressive war chests based on heavy contributions from the health industry and labor. He has easily beaten little-known opponents in past years.
"He's not going to get any money," Tucker said. "I've served my constituents well. My intention is to continue to come up to Sacramento and work. Danny's not going to take my seat away from me. And I'm going to go after him in the next council election."
Tabor represents Inglewood's 1st Council District, home to many Inglewood politicians and political operatives and the same district that Tucker represented as the city's first black councilman, beginning in 1972. Tucker backed a council candidate against Tabor in 1985.
Tabor works as the director for the United Way's Crenshaw Corridor Underserved Communities Project and serves in many Inglewood organizations. He also is the city's representative to the National League of Cities Conference.
In an interview, Tabor described his race as part of a generational struggle in black politics between aspiring young politicians and established leaders whose power, he said, has made them complacent.
Acknowledging that Tucker will outspend him, Tabor says he will count on grass-roots support from volunteers, door-to-door campaigning and attending community functions. He plans to seek funds both from various sources, including groups such as environmentalists and feminists.
Tabor said he will focus on the issues of economic development and opportunity, education and health care. But he also said his message would be based on a difference in style, saying he prefers to see himself as a statesman more than a politician.
"The politician waits until the issues are defined and articulated and then runs to the head of the pack," he said. "The statesman works with the community to identify an agenda and helps them to attain those goals. He is not just a leader but a follower and a pusher. That's how I've tried to be on the council."
Tucker said he does not generally seek endorsements but probably will get them anyway from his legislative colleagues and local political leaders. He said he expects to pull 80% of the vote, and said he believes Tabor is vulnerable even in his own council district.
Tabor acknowledged that some see him as a smooth talker who does not always follow through.
"I start more things than I finish," Tabor said. "But the things I start are important and the things that I finish are important."
Tabor said he has been warned against challenging Tucker by people who say he is taking on too much too soon.
Frank Lewis, an Inglewood dentist who is active in politics and knows both candidates, said: "I don't think it's wise. He needs to solidify his position in his district. This is not the time. A lot of Danny's friends are Curtis's friends and they're going to have to make choices."
Curren Price, a high school friend of Tabor's who will be working on the councilman's campaign, argued that the formidable challenge is "all the more reason to run."
"Danny's going to show he's not afraid to make hard decisions," Price said.
Tucker said he will not ignore Tabor or take him for granted and will try to make character a central issue.
"I think he's in it for name recognition," Tucker said. "Danny's not going to take my seat."