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Tucker Confident He'll Win His Father's Assembly Seat

February 05, 1989|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | Times Staff Writer

Tuesday's special election for the vacant 50th District Assembly seat will be the ultimate test of a political legacy.

In an abbreviated two-month campaign, legislative aide Curtis R. Tucker Jr. has wrapped himself in the mantle of his father, Assemblyman Curtis R. Tucker (D-Inglewood), who died in October after dominating the district's political landscape for 14 years.

Three candidates are taking on the younger Tucker and the political force that backs the legacy: Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco.)

The two Democrats are Inglewood school board member Lois Hill-Hale, 52, who for eight years was a deputy to State Sen. Diane Watson, and Los Angeles Police Officer Carl McGill, 29, a political newcomer who is active in community work against street gangs. The Republican is business consultant Mike Davis, 34, who is making his third try for the seat. He lost to the elder Tucker in November.

Reelection a First

Tucker's posthumous reelection, the first in state history, forced the special election. It was originally set for April, but Gov. George Deukmejian changed the election to February at the request of Brown. All four candidates will run on a single ballot. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, the top Democrat will face the top Republican in an April 11 runoff.

Another Democratic candidate, Inglewood political consultant Roderick Wright, will be on the ballot, but he withdrew last month, saying Tucker was unbeatable.

Tucker, a legislative aide to Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles), has the advantages that gave his father repeated victories: an enormous war chest and endorsements from Democratic leaders including Brown, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn and state Atty. Gen. John Van De Kamp.

As of last week, the younger Tucker had raised $143,000, more than six times the combined funds of his three opponents.

The opponents have focused on what they say Tucker doesn't have: experience and credentials. They accuse him of nepotism, using words like monarchy and puppet, and say their grass-roots campaigns will spur voters to rebuff Tucker and his Sacramento backers.

Before Tucker began working for Moore this year, he worked for five years as a legislative aide to Assemblyman Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles). His work won praise, although some Roos staffers have said lack of motivation and absenteeism were occasional problems.

Tucker has missed four of the candidates' six joint appearances, feeding his opponents' charges that he is hiding from the voters and letting his money and name do the talking.

Maintains Visibility

Tucker says the flu kept him from several forums. And he maintains that he has been visible in the district, attending meetings and walking precincts.

"It's looking good," Tucker said of the campaign last week. "We've had great response from our phoning and walking."

The issues in the ethnically and racially diverse, predominantly Democratic district range from crime and economic development on the east to airport noise and ecology on the west, with health care, transportation and education of general concern.

The district's registration is 77% Democratic; its population is 55% black and 20% Latino, with the balance mostly Anglo.

On issues such as the continuing shutdown of trauma centers and the need for increased education funding, Tucker says that he will be a key 41st vote in the Assembly for Brown and that his connections to the leadership will benefit the district.

He said solutions for some of the district's problems already exist but need to be pushed through the Legislature. For example, he said additional money for schools is available if Democrats exert pressure on the governor.

In addition, Tucker talks tough on crime and the death penalty, saying there are killers who should be executed rather than being kept on Death Row at taxpayers' expense.

Davis appears to have the best shot at an upset.

With turnout among the district's 145,000 registered voters expected to be as low as 26,000, Tucker's strategists say their main worry is that Republicans in El Segundo and Westchester, who traditionally are most likely to vote, will form a disproportionate part of the electorate.

"What Mike Davis should hope for is heavy rain and extreme cold," said Inglewood Councilman Daniel Tabor, who considered running for Assembly but bowed out.

"It appears this election will be decided in Inglewood and points west," Davis said recently.

The growing significance of the western part of the district is ironic, according to leaders in El Segundo and Westchester, who say their communities have felt neglected in the past.

"It's not an office that this community has given much thought to," said longtime Westchester businessman and activist John Ruhlen. "Tucker (Sr.) was somewhat aloof."

Ruhlen and El Segundo Mayor Carl Jacobson said Davis appears to have solid support in their areas.

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