In the most Democratic of all the Assembly districts in the state of California, the lone Republican candidate pins his hopes on the message of a Michael Jackson song--"Take a look at yourself and make a change."
But that's in November. This is June, and four Democrats are facing off in Tuesday's primary. The winner will likely be a shoo-in for the 48th Assembly District seat.
One is an Assembly member representing the former district. Another is a former sergeant-at-arms in the Assembly who saw firsthand that "the system does not always work fairly" for those who do not understand it.
The newly drawn 48th is 88% Democrat, 6% Republican. It is also a 98% minority district. Although Latinos make up 52% of the population, fewer than 5% are registered to vote. So it is the 46% African-American population that is expected to decide who wins. All the leading candidates are black.
All candidates who were interviewed put the rebuilding of this district, which stretches from downtown to the fringes of Watts, and was hard-hit during the riots, at the top of their priorities.
The Democratic front-runner is Marguerite Archie-Hudson, who in 1990 staged an upset victory over then-City Councilman Robert C. Farrell to represent the old 48th District, only the northwest part of which is included in the new 48th, which was extended north into downtown.
Archie-Hudson, who has the support of two towering black politicians--Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles)--says she has given most of her campaign funds to other women and minority candidates, and instead of campaigning, has spent most of her time "on the streets, people to people" in post-riot Los Angeles.
Sheldon Craig Harvey, a state enforcement officer with a degree in economics, spent more than seven years as the sergeant-at-arms in the Assembly, and saw legislators--including Archie-Hudson--in action. "In terms of her performance in the past, I think she's a fine legislator, if we had ordinary times. But I think times are extraordinary and we should do extraordinary things, and I haven't seen that type of behavior from her."
Attorney Matthew L. Olds, at 28 the youngest of the three, says "the community needs help, it needs lots of help," starting with education. And "the average black person on the street will tell you they don't trust the black politician. Nothing comes into the district but everything gets pulled out. . . . I'm not here to badger (Archie-Hudson) and say what she does is wrong. It's for me to get in there and do what people need."
Archie-Hudson served for eight years on the Los Angeles Community College board before being elected to the Assembly.
Most of her $30,000 campaign war chest, she says, has been given away to other candidates in close races. That does not mean she is taking her victory for granted, she insisted. "We've been so busy doing the things we ought to be doing that the campaign has just kind of fallen by the wayside. That doesn't bother me a lot, to the extent I'm doing the things I need to do as a legislator," such as helping to establish a community aid center at Southwest College.
She is also promoting an Assembly bill to tighten up the formula for licensing liquor stores, a sore point in the rebuilding of riot-stricken parts of Los Angeles.
As to whether her incumbency and identification with Sacramento power figures will hurt her, she said: "I think there is a general criticism of incumbents, but I don't think that criticism is specific to individual officeholders. People tend to look at what their own officeholders are doing--do you respond when there's a crisis? My office is characterized by people as extremely responsive."
Harvey, a Los Angeles native, chose to run because he saw how the system works--and did not work--while he was in Sacramento, and he pledged to "use my economics education . . . so (the system) can work for people in South-Central as smoothly as it works for the many organizations that do business with the Legislature."
He said he saw many expensive bills come before committees "with no known opposition, mainly because people don't understand (them), except the people who wrote it. I would like to see people get the whole story."
He has spent perhaps $1,000 of his own money on flyers taken door to door by volunteers. He wants rebuilding to be "community-centric," on issues from liquor stores to the aesthetics of new buildings, whose cheapness or ugliness can "take away from our lives."
Olds, a Florida native in law practice with his brothers, says he has spent about $10,000 of his own money on signs and campaign literature, believes in promoting education and working closely with Korean-Americans who have business interests in the area to bring about a solid rebuilding effort. He went to college on a wrestling scholarship but without that, he says, he might be as dead-ended as the young men he sees daily.