The decision by 47th District Assemblywoman Gwen Moore to seek higher office after 16 years in the Legislature has triggered a lively race to replace her, with nine Democratic candidates seeking the party's nomination.
Two Republicans are vying for the GOP nomination, but given the district's voter registration figures--75% are Democrats--Moore's successor likely will be the Democrat who wins the June 7 primary.
Moore's eclectic district is essentially a chunk of mid-Los Angeles that runs west from the San Diego Freeway almost to Western Avenue between Wilshire Boulevard and Slauson Avenue. It includes the Crenshaw District, Ladera Heights, Baldwin Hills, Cheviot Hills and Culver City.
The district was drawn to favor the election of an African American, and all but two of the 11 candidates are black.
Because the district is largely affluent, the candidates describe the 47th as one of the premier African American legislative districts in the country, a good base from which to move up the political ladder.
Among the Democrats, the wide-open nature of the race means a winner could emerge with less than 30% of the vote.
The four Democrats who have significant money, endorsements or grass-roots community ties are attorneys Geoff Gibbs and Kevin Murray, congressional aide Ed Johnson and community activist Valerie Lynne Shaw.
Some would include a fifth name on the list of the apparent first tier of candidates: Jimmie Woods Gray, a teacher and union activist who is underfunded but well-known in the community.
The remaining contenders are attorney Marsha F. Kimble, writer Neil Liss, businessmen Leslie Roberson and Rudolph Valentino Thompson.
The Republican candidates are businessman Jonathan Leonard and attorney Kathleen Lee Brundo.
Moore, who is running for secretary of state, has ties to the Westside-based political organization of Reps. Henry Waxman and Howard Berman.
As her successor, both men have endorsed Johnson, a longtime deputy to Rep. Julian Dixon (D-Los Angeles). Johnson also won the endorsement of the state Democratic Party at its convention last month.
But Johnson has stiff opposition.
Murray, for instance, is backed by his father, Assemblyman Willard W. Murray Jr. (D-Paramount).
The elder Murray is a veteran state legislator, so the younger Murray has some big-name backers of his own: Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), state Sen. David Roberti (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), to name a few. Kevin Murray also has the advantage of gaining a spot on his dad's mailings, which targets black voters.
The candidacy of Shaw is also getting some attention from political prognosticators.
Shaw, who used to be an aide to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, was recently rated along with Johnson and Murray as one of the top three candidates in the race by the political newsletter Calpeek.
Gibbs has been a standout in fund raising. The former deputy to Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, who two years ago became the first black female to hold a U.S. Senate seat, had loans and contributions of roughly $75,000 by the March 17 filing period.
But he is not a longtime Angeleno, and many question whether his local roots go deep enough to enable him to win.
Gray could surprise if she gets a large bank of volunteers from the teachers union to knock on doors for her.
With the large number of African American candidates likely to split the black vote, the district's white voters may prove the deciding factor in the election.
Such a scenario was played out two years ago when Yvonne Brathwaite Burke beat state Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) in the race for a county supervisor's seat.
Among the estimated 8,000 Jewish households in the district, the backing from Berman and Waxman should help Johnson, as will his ties to the popular Dixon.
But as all the candidates admit, it's a field of relative unknowns, making the outcome difficult to predict.
"This race is going to be won by the person who shakes the most hands," said political newcomer Roberson. "And I'm a-shakin'."
47th Assembly District
The 47th Assembly District encompasses Culver City, Mid-City, Baldwin Hills and Crenshaw.
* Anglo 30%
* Latino 23%
* Black 40%
* Asian 8%
* Democrat 75%
* Republican 14%
* Demographic percentages sometimes add up to more than 100% because census may count some Latinos in racial categories.