LYNWOOD — Two black incumbents held on to their jobs and for the first time a Latino was elected to the five-member City Council in a race marked by charges that racism was behind the renaming of Century Boulevard in honor of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Mayor Evelyn Wells and Mayor Pro Tem Paul H. Richards were reelected to second four-year terms.
Armando Rea, who ran on a slate with two other Latinos, finished third, capturing the seat left vacant by retiring veteran Councilman E. L. Morris.
Richards received the most votes in the race by 12 candidates for three seats, Wells was the next highest vote-getter, followed by Rea.
The two others on the Latino slate, Emma Esparza and Alberto Penalber, finished a close fourth and fifth.
"We gave it a good fight. We didn't lose by too much. I'm just happy one of us won," Esparza said.
Both Wells and Richards expressed relief that they had taken an early Tuesday night lead away from Rea, Esparza and Penalber.
"I feel much better now," Richards said during a victory party at his home.
All of the winners said they would be willing to work with each other.
"As the new kid on the block I went to them and congratulated them," said Rea, 30, a county sheriff's detective specializing in burglary and stolen automobile investigations.
With all 12 precincts reporting, Richards finished with 1,119 votes, Wells got 1,110, Rea, 1,043 and Esparza, 944 while Penalber received 822.
Controversy over changing the name of a portion of Century Boulevard to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard generated charges and countercharges early in the summer.
Black council members said they were accused of racism after they voted to change the name.
In the waning moments of the campaign, candidate Benjamin R. Miranda, a black, accused the Latino coalition of running "a blatant racist campaign" because of a last-minute mailer.
The mailer by Latin Americans Together, supported Rea, Esparza and Penalber and stated that there were no Latinos on the five-member council even though more than 45% of the city's 50,000 population is Latino.
The mailer, which displayed numerous flags of Latin American countries, asked voters to elect Esparza, Rea and Penalber as well as Lynwood school board candidate Rachel Chavez and school board incumbent Helen Andersen, an Anglo. Chavez was elected and Andersen defeated.
Rea denied running a racist campaign.
However, he said that it was important that a Latino be on the council to represent the varied Latino community.
Both Esparza and Penalber denied that their tactics in the campaign were racist.
"There is nothing racist about wanting to get Latinos elected to the council. Blacks supported each other in this campaign. No one is calling it racism," Esparza said.
Mayor Wells said: "I see this (the Latino campaign) as racism. It is a shame they had to resort to this.
"This is a multiracial community and we should be supporting harmony." She said she would be willing to work with Rea. "I hope he will be willing to work with the entire community, not just the Latino community," Wells said.
Richards said he welcomed a Latino on the council.
"It is about time. It is long overdue," Richards said. The 33-year-old Richards was elected to the council in 1986 to serve out the unexpired term of Louis Thompson, a councilman who died in office.
As for the renaming of the street, both Wells and Richards said they would not do anything differently.
"I know some people disagreed with the street renaming but I think people looked beyond the street controversy. My record won for me," Richards said.
However, Rea said the street issue should have been put on the ballot to allow citizens a chance to vote.
"I think Martin Luther King was a great man, but he probably would not have supported using $40,000 to name a street after him, " Rea said.
Following the street renaming, Esparza and Penalber launched an unsuccessful recall attempt against Wells, Richards and Councilman Robert Henning. All three had voted for the street renaming.
Wells and Richards had called the recall attempt, that was abandoned before petitions were circulated, a publicity stunt to help Esparza and Penalber in their political campaigns.