Veteran Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton) and a former political aide who now serves in the state Legislature are locked in a bitter legal battle for control of the Community Democrat--the oldest and most influential political mailer in Los Angeles County's black community.
Dymally and Assemblyman Willard H. Murray Jr. (D-Paramount) are each claiming in rival court suits that they own and publish the Community Democrat, which is why two versions of the mailer were sent to voters shortly before the Nov. 6 general election.
The Community Democrat is one of those political mailers designed to look like a community tabloid newspaper, as well as an official party publication. Copies flood mailboxes throughout Los Angeles County the week before every election. They feature slates of candidates and ballot propositions in hopes of influencing voters.
The mailer was founded in 1962 and is officially published by a group known as the United Democratic Campaign Committee. Unofficially, the group is the political organization Dymally and other black leaders put together three decades ago to help him and other blacks get elected.
The dispute involving ownership of the mailer has become so intense that sources acquainted with the two politicians say Dymally and his supporters have vowed to destroy Murray's political career.
"They used to be real tight. Now, before Dymally goes to his grave, he will make sure that Willard Murray will no longer be in that (Assembly) seat," said one source, a political consultant who spoke on condition that he not be identified.
Dymally is already looking for a candidate to run against Murray in 1992, the source said. Murray worked on Dymally's staff and was first elected to the Assembly two years ago with the congressman's support. Murray won his second Assembly term in the recent general election.
Dymally referred all inquiries about the fight over the Community Democrat to his lawyer, Nancy Eichler of Studio City.
Murray could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, Reggie Brown of Los Angeles, said: "I'm sure the case will probably go to trial and a judge will eventually decide who has the right to ownership."
As Dymally's aide, Murray took over publication of the mailer several years ago with his boss's blessing. However, the candidates and ballot measures that Murray endorsed in the Community Democrat in recent years disturbed many black political activists.
Two years ago, for example, Murray and the Community Democrat sided with the tobacco interests, using the mailer to fight a state ballot proposition that called for new taxes on cigarettes.
Other activists were angry that Murray had turned the Community Democrat into a personal, profit-making business. The publishers of the mailers commonly charge candidates money for the privilege of being endorsed. The same is true for propositions.
The furor between Dymally and Murray was ignited this spring when the Community Democrat supported Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner over Arlo Smith in the Democratic primary for state attorney general.
Dymally and other black leaders were heavily supporting Smith. Murray promised Dymally that the Community Democrat would feature Smith on its slate of candidates, according to two sources, one an elected official, the other a political consultant. However, when it arrived in mailboxes shortly before the June primary, Reiner's name was on the slate.
An angry Dymally went to court within days of the election, arguing that he had the only valid claim to publish a mailer called the Community Democrat and that Murray had "perverted" the ideals embodied in it by "supporting candidates for profit instead of idealism."
Furthermore, when he first met Murray in 1960, Murray was a Republican supporting Richard M. Nixon for President, Dymally charged in his court documents.
Murray filed a countersuit, claiming that he has been publishing and distributing the Community Democrat since its founding and that he ought to be paid more than $300,000 for the damage Dymally's allegations did to his reputation. He asked the court to keep Dymally and his supporters from publishing a mailer called the Community Democrat.
In October, a Superior Court judge ruled that Murray had not produced enough evidence to support his claim that he was the rightful owner and publisher and refused to issue an injunction blocking Dymally's group from publishing the Community Democrat.
Dymally assumed the case was settled, his lawyer said, so he and his backers went to press with their Community Democrat.
Murray, however, published a slate mailer called the Community Democrat, too. Now Dymally is going back to court in an effort to force Murray from ever publishing a mailer called the Community Democrat, said Dymally lawyer Eichler. Eichler said she expects to return to court in about two weeks.