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Newcomer Crosses Swords With Inglewood Council : Politics: In her first month in office, Judith Dunlap has few allies in City Hall. But she does have a loyal backing.

July 25, 1993|MICHELE FUETSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was shortly after her election to the Inglewood City Council and Judith L. Dunlap was dining with supporters at the Forum Club, where the city's movers and shakers often gather to see and be seen.

As her supporters recall, a stream of people walked over to their table to offer Dunlap congratulations. Dunlap seemed to know them all, rattling off the names of the well-wishers' parents and children as if they were her best friends.

Political consultant Michael Triggs, who was with Dunlap that day, remembers being impressed at the depth of Dunlap's popularity and the number of people she seemed to know so well.

"Oh, that's the mother of so-and-so or that's the father of so-and-so," Triggs recalled Dunlap saying.

It was an example of how the 48-year-old Dunlap engenders deep loyalty among many people. Yet others see her as a passionate iconoclast, liable to trigger heated animosity.

A political neophyte without prominent political endorsements or big money, Dunlap in June ousted the District 2 incumbent, Anthony Scardenzan, a 12-year council veteran who had the backing of Mayor Edward Vincent's formidable political organization.

Dunlap is a tall, thin woman whose curly reddish-brown hair frames a face that is intense but capable of flashes of amusement, usually when she is joking about the foibles of City Hall or attempts by her foes to paint her as an unreasonable, flaky outsider.

But friends note that she does not take life lightly. "Judy's going to have a hard time," said Terry Coleman, a longtime political activist and Dunlap supporter. "But one thing I know about her, she's a fighter. That woman won't quit no matter what happens. . . . I just have never met anyone as determined as Judy."

Before entering politics, Dunlap taught in Inglewood elementary schools for 25 years, earning a reputation as a demanding, deeply committed educator under whom students blossomed. Many of her former students and their parents worked in her campaign.

"I got out and went door-to-door, knocking," said Julia Maples, whose son and daughter were taught by Dunlap. "I had never, never gotten involved in a campaign before."

Clinical psychologist Lola G. Walker said she wishes there were more teachers like Dunlap.

"I was really impressed and I'm very difficult to please," said Walker, who asked to be Dunlap's room mother so she could be in the classroom to monitor her own son's progress. After Dunlap, Walker said, she found her son's subsequent teachers mediocre and put him in a private school.

It is gratifying, Dunlap says, that so many of her former students and their parents were involved in her campaign. "To me this is the respect, my reward for the many years I taught in the Inglewood schools."

Others, however, point to an incident earlier this month that they say shows that Dunlap is not the darling her fans believe she is.

On July 9, county marshals served the city with a court order to attach Dunlap's council salary, which is a little more than $700 a month, as payment for a debt. According to the order, Dunlap owed $7,500 in back rent and her former landlady had obtained a court judgment against her. The incident brought jeers from Vincent and Scardenzan and some city staff members, who had been irritated by Dunlap's assertions that they're overpaid and underproductive.

Scardenzan had publicized the rent dispute during the campaign, though it did not win him enough votes to keep his council seat. Still, the former councilman has not let up, calling the court order an embarrassment to the city.

Vincent wanted to know how Dunlap could be expected to balance the city budget when she couldn't handle her own finances. Dunlap acknowledged that the court order was embarrassing, and said it brings up painful memories of a period of her life that was devastating financially and physically.

In the spring of 1991, she said, she became ill with an intestinal ailment that doctors said was related to stress. She said doctors told her she would have to quit work. She lost 40 pounds, her heartbeat became irregular and she suffered blackouts, at one point falling and breaking her shoulder after having just come home from a long hospital stay.

Dunlap, who is divorced and has two grown daughters who live away from home, said the rent dispute with her landlord happened after she became ill. She said she was short on money and had planned to move out, but that the landlady agreed to lower the rent to $200 a month, down from more than $900, so that Dunlap would not move.

Dunlap said she has months of receipts, signed by the landlady, for the $200-a-month rent. She said she had promised to pay back the difference, and in fact had given the landlady a lien on any future worker's compensation benefits she was to receive. But after living under that agreement for seven months, Dunlap said the landlady suddenly began eviction proceedings against her.

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