Edward Vincent, mayor of Inglewood, is usually all over town. He's shaking hands at banquets and lunches. Rubbing shoulders at sign raisings or store openings. Schmoozing people at early morning business meetings. Hamming it up at evening networking sessions.
In fact, it can be difficult to get away from Vincent--unless you're running against him for office.
At the recent mayoral debate at the Mayflower Ballroom, Vincent was absent. His opponents, Garland Hardeman, a five-year veteran of the Inglewood City Council, and Judith Dunlap, a councilwoman for 18 months, sat side by side, occasionally sparred with one another and attacked Vincent for not attending.
Vincent, who did not once debate his opponents during the campaign, sent a letter to the Beach Cities League of Women Voters apologizing for his absence but saying his record stands for itself.
Indeed, Vincent has entirely ignored his opponents throughout the campaign and has focused on driving home his accomplishments and goals. In conversations about the campaign, he rarely mentions either Hardeman or Dunlap. That strategy has helped make this election season one of the calmest in recent Inglewood history.
"Why should I be bothered with them?" Vincent said at a fund-raiser last month.
In previous years, Inglewood elections have been anything but quiet. In 1987, Hardeman lost his first council race in a bid to unseat one of the mayor's allies, Ervin (Tony) Thomas. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge, however, threw out that election, ruling that Vincent and other Thomas supporters had invaded voters' rights to ballot secrecy during a house-to-house ballot drive.
Ultimately, Vincent was fined $16,000 by the state Fair Political Practices Commission. The mayor denied any wrongdoing.
Vincent's political luster was briefly tarnished, but he weathered the scandal and has remained the city's head cheerleader. Inglewood, he often says, is unfairly disparaged by outsiders who have been influenced by media-perpetuated stereotypes of cities populated by blacks and Latinos.
In fact, in a video put together for his campaign, the narrator refers to Inglewood as almost a paradise. His primary job as mayor, he says, is to fight a never-ending barrage of wrong perceptions about Inglewood.
Vincent, 60, was a football star at the University of Iowa in the 1950s and played briefly with the Los Angeles Rams until an injury stymied his career. His conversation is filled with football analogies and calls for teamwork. He became the city's first black mayor 12 years ago and has been easily reelected since then.
He is particularly well-liked by many in the business community, who say that Vincent's positive spin on events can only help the local economy.
Crime, though high in Inglewood, remains on a 10-year downward trend, according to Inglewood police statistics. And Crime Watch Consultants, based in Marina del Rey, recently praised the city for being among the top 10 cities in California in which crime has dropped between 1992 and 1993.
"Everything's great! The city's great! All anyone has to do is look around!" Vincent said recently at a $100-per-person "Monday Night Football" fund-raiser for his campaign at Hollywood Park. "I feel very confident. Why shouldn't I? Inglewood is better today financially than it's been at any time in its history."
About 30 business leaders in Inglewood, nearly half of them residents, gathered for the event; others had contributed but did not attend.
"When I became mayor, crime was at an all-time high," read a statement at each table. "We had to beg developers and home builders to consider us. Unemployment was high. Graffiti and prostitution plagued the city. More importantly, our community spirit was nonexistent. Using teamwork we've turned all that around."
The major criticism leveled at him by his opponents is that he is unduly guided by City Manager Paul D. Eckles. Vincent treats it like praise.
"I'm proud to be connected with Paul Eckles," Vincent said. "Eckles has this city a Triple A bond rating with Standard & Poors--and they don't go on personality." Vincent was referring to the highest possible municipal bond rating, which allows a city to borrow money at lower rates of interest.
To run against Vincent is to allege that Inglewood has problems, which can be a touchy election theme.
Hardeman has walked a careful line, pointing out that Inglewood is a great place, but saying it could be a lot better. Vincent, he said, lacks vision, and even if he had it, Eckles wouldn't let him use it.
"His leadership of the city has left a lot to be desired. For example, the poverty rate in Inglewood is the highest in the South Bay. Why, when we have more assets than most?" Hardeman said, referring to Hollywood Park, the Forum and other major businesses in town.
Hardeman decries the same crime rate that Vincent touts.