SACRAMENTO — Assembly Speaker Willie Brown said he believes that Willard H. Murray would be the best Democratic candidate to challenge freshman Assemblyman Paul E. Zeltner (R-Lakewood) in the November general election.
Murray, 57, who is on leave as an aide to Rep. Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton), is seeking the Democratic nomination in the 54th Assembly District against Leon Ralph, 55, a former assemblyman who once represented part of the district.
"If Willard Murray asks me to support him, I will support him. . . . He's a good personal friend," Brown said in an interview.
The San Francisco Democrat said he would "do anything I can to help" Murray win the June 7 primary, including raising campaign contributions. But Brown, who is often assailed for his attempts to influence legislative contests, cautioned that Murray "may find me a liability. . . . "
Ralph said he was not surprised by Brown's support for Murray because Ralph opposed Brown's unsuccessful bid for the speakership in 1974. Ralph maintains that Brown has never forgiven him, although Ralph has said he would support Brown's speakership today.
Murray said Brown has told him that the Assembly Democratic leadership would support his candidacy but that Brown would prefer not to be personally involved in the campaign. Murray said that Brown's support would not be a liability but that because of the Speaker's wishes, he does not plan to list Brown as a supporter.
So far, Murray and Ralph have waged a low-key campaign in the heavily Democratic district, which covers Bellflower, Compton, Lakewood and Paramount and parts of Willowbrook and East Long Beach.
The pace of the race is expected to pick up in the final weeks before the election as candidates send brochures to voters and walk precincts to drum up support.
Waters Beat Murray
In 1986, the district's veteran Assemblyman Frank Vicencia (D-Bellflower) retired. With Brown's support, Edward K. Waters, son of Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), finished ahead of Murray in a bruising primary. Waters, however, lost to Zeltner in the general election.
This year, Brown said, Murray would be the better candidate to oppose Zeltner "any day of the week" because "he has a better chance of winning (in November). . . . Leon Ralph has been up here preaching for the last 10 years" and has been away from the district.
Moreover, Brown said, Murray deserves the nomination because he finished in second place two years ago.
Ralph said Brown's efforts on Murray's behalf might help his own candidacy in parts of the district where voters remain upset that the Speaker supported Waters in the 1986 primary.
Elsewhere, Ralph said, "I think it hurts in that he'll obviously be able to raise money for Willard."
Ralph said he has support in the district, especially from labor union officials and Baptist church groups in Compton and Willowbrook. "I'm not a newcomer. I have been away but I'm back . . . because the problems facing the district have intensified since I represented it."
First elected in 1966, Ralph retired from the Assembly in 1976 and entered the ministry in the Sacramento area. He moved to Inglewood in 1986 and to Paramount earlier this year.