LYNWOOD — Charges of racism dominate the City Council race because the city voted to change the name of Century Boulevard to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard this year.
Twelve candidates are competing for three seats on the council.
Blacks on the five-member council said they were accused of racism after they voted to rename the major boulevard for the slain civil rights leader.
Two of the Latino candidates, Emma Mendez Esparza and Alberto M. Penalber, started an unsuccessful recall attempt against the black members, Mayor Evelyn Wells, Mayor Pro Tem Paul Richards and Councilman Robert Henning.
Wells, 43, and Richards, 33, are running for reelection. Henning is not up for reelection. The third vacancy was caused by veteran City Councilman E. L. Morris, who decided not to seek reelection.
Wells described the recall attempt as a "political move" by her opponents to get publicity during the campaign.
Richards said, "It is a publicity stunt that didn't go anywhere."
Esparza, 42, a private workers' compensation consultant whose Lynwood office is on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, denied that the issue is racial. She said she is concerned with the council not communicating with citizens.
"They keeping saying it's racism, but that's not what it is all about," said Esparza, who is running for political office for the first time.
Esparza accused the council of not giving adequate notice to residents and businesses along Century Boulevard before it was renamed.
Richards and Wells claim the renaming was done according to proper governmental procedure. The council, made up of three blacks and two whites, was unanimous in its decision to honor King by renaming a street. In April, the council voted 3 to 2 to rename Century Boulevard. The two white members favored renaming some other street within the city.
Wells, a financial supervisor at Lynwood High School, said she believes the No. 1 issue is to bring economic growth to the predominantly minority community of 50,000. Latinos make up about 45% of the population, blacks about 32% and whites 10%.
Wells said she will continue to try and bring in businesses such as the $10-million shopping center at Long Beach Boulevard and Imperial Highway.
She also said she will continue to push for programs such as the Sheriff's Athletic League and the Teen Resource Center that were started to give youths something positive to do and keep them away from drugs and gangs. For Wells, who was elected to the council in 1985, it is her first reelection bid.
Council members are elected for four years. They receive about $1,000 monthly, which includes a $500 salary and $500 in car allowances. They also receive a car phone and $30 for each meeting of the Redevelopment Agency.
Richards was elected to the council in 1986 to serve out the unexpired term of Councilman Louis Thompson, who died in office.
When the controversy erupted over the street renaming, Richards led an effort that ended with the establishment of a 27-member committee on race relations.
Richards said the committee would promote "racial peace, respect and understanding" in the city. Richards, a assistant city manager for Compton, has twice served as mayor of Lynwood.
Esparza, Penalber and Armando Rea are running as a slate.
Esparza said she joined Penalber because she respects him and his accomplishments. Penalber was an unsuccessful candidate for the council in 1987. He lost by three votes to Councilman Robert Henning. Penalber also served about a year on the city Planning Commissioner. Penalber, 47, is a division supervisor for a general contracting company. He is now serving on the Los Angeles County Grand Jury. He could not be reached for comment.
Rea, 31, is a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy. He is making his first bid for public office. Contacted by The Times last week, Rea refused to be interviewed, saying "the race is too tight at this time." He said he would willingly talk after the election.
Esparza said she supported Rea because she believes he "can bring new blood" to a council that "tries to bully its citizens and doesn't listen to them."
Challenger Lewis Dias said he was intent on heading off any chance of Rea's winning a spot on the council.
Dias said he opposed Rea because he believes that, as a sheriff's deputy, he would promote only issues that related to the Sheriff's Department. Lynwood contracts with the sheriff for police services.
"The sheriff already has a justice center proposed for the city, and with Rea on the council, that would be too much power," Dias said.
Dias said he had tried unsuccessfully to get all of the black challengers to hold a meeting and select one from the group to run, but the meeting never took place. Dias, 49 is finance manager of Queen City Ford in Long Beach.
"With so many blacks in the race, we are only splitting the votes and allowing Rea a chance to be elected," Dias said.
Other candidates include:
* Louis Byrd, 57, making his first bid for elective office.