Lily Chen says she and her election opponent, Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park), "don't differ that much" on political issues.
And if Martinez weren't "lazy, arrogant and inept," unable to keep a staff together, and "an embarrassment" to the district, Chen said, she wouldn't have much to complain about.
Chen, a former mayor of Monterey Park, is a long shot in the June 7 Democratic primary in the 30th Congressional District, but her strong, personal attacks have captured headlines and unsettled her opponent.
"She's a sick woman," Martinez said with disgust last week after Chen accused him of improperly hiring an alleged girlfriend for two government jobs with a combined salary of more dhan than $72,000 a year.
Martinez, who is married but does not live with his wife, called Chen's allegations "garbage." He said he had obtained a legal opinion from the office of the clerk of the House of Representatives which showed that he had acted legally in hiring Maxine Grant as both administrative assistant and administrator of his subcommittee on employment opportunities. And Grant said she earns her salary by spending 60 to 70 hours a week on the job.
Martinez said that by launching a personal attack, Chen is showing that she has no real issues and is desperate.
Although Martinez rebutted the allegations by Chen, the attacks drew media attention and focused the campaign on the congressman's integrity and personal life. And the attacks gave encouragement to three Republicans competing for their party's nomination June 7 who hope for a divisive Democratic primary to open the way for a Republican upset in November. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district nearly 2 to 1.
Martinez, 59, has represented the 30th Congressional District, which runs from Bell Gardens to Azusa, since 1982. He was elected to the Monterey Park City Council in 1974 and was serving as mayor and running a furniture upholstery business in 1980 when he upset incumbent Democrat Jack Fenton to win a seat in the state Assembly. Two years later, he was elected to Congress and has been reelected twice since.
Chen, who turned 52 on Friday, was born in China, moved with her family to Taiwan in 1949 and came to the United States as a college student, obtaining a master's degree in social work from the University of Washington. She has campaigned full time since the beginning of this year while on unpaid leave from her job as director of public affairs for the county Department of Children's Services. She was elected to the Monterey Park City Council in 1982 but lost a bid for reelection four years later.
The 30th Congressional District includes Monterey Park, Alhambra and San Gabriel, three cities with large and growing Asian populations, but the overall district is heavily Latino. A computer analysis that categorizes registered voters by race and ethnic origin on the basis of surnames indicates that 46.4% of the district's Democratic voters are Latino, 2.3% are Chinese and 3% are Japanese.
Chen said most immigrant Chinese register as Republicans or nonpartisan, and she has been encouraging them to re-register as Democrats. Chen said she "is bringing new blood into the Democratic Party."
Both Chen and Martinez discounted the importance of race in the election.
Martinez said his Latino heritage does not guarantee him the support of Latino voters. "Most Hispanics are Americans, and they think, like every other voter, about who is the best candidate, not along ethnic lines," he said.
Chen said: "Obviously, I'm not an Asian candidate. In every election I have had to get votes from other groups."
Until last week, the most visible accomplishments of the Chen campaign were the signs plastered throughout the district and her fund-raising success. Aides said she has raised $288,000 for the campaign, substantially more than the $192,704 reported by Martinez.
Chen enlivened the campaign last week by accusing Martinez of improperly hiring his aide for the two jobs. Promising revelations about Martinez, Chen summoned reporters to a Rosemead restaurant, where she read a nine-page statement. She took only a few questions before hurriedly leaving the press conference and referring reporters to a campaign aide.
In an earlier interview, Chen said people in the district tell her that Martinez "votes OK but that's about it."
"It takes more than just voting to make a good congressman," Chen said. "He's inept. Previously, I thought he was just being lazy, but now I'm really convinced that he is just incapable of doing many things."
Chen cited an article in the January, 1987, issue of California magazine that rated the state's House members and gave Martinez the lowest score for intelligence and the second-lowest for effectiveness. She said that although Martinez is chairman of a labor subcommittee, he has produced no significant legislation.