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DECISION '94 : Minority Candidates Win Seats on Water Boards : Elections: Office seekers affiliated with former Rep. Mervyn Dymally gain footholds.

November 10, 1994|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A slate of minority candidates gained a foothold on local water boards this week, capturing seats on three agencies that for decades have been dominated by white insiders.

The minority candidates, all affiliated with the political machine of former Rep. Mervyn Dymally, took a first step toward opening up the boards by winning five of eight seats they sought on the Central and West Basin municipal water districts and the Water Replenishment District of Southern California. The agencies store and distribute water to communities across the Southeast, South Bay and Westside.

Dymally's son, Mark, who headed the slate, defeated an incumbent in the West Basin. He said the new faces will help bring attention to the powerful and lucrative agencies that have operated in obscurity for too long.

Dymally, 38, said he wants to examine the West Basin's finances and operations as one of his first priorities. "We are about fairness, we're about diversity," he said.

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The other winners on the Dymally slate were Keith McDonald, son of Assemblywoman Juanita M. McDonald (D-Carson), who captured a seat on the West Basin district, and Kenneth Orduna, Dymally's former chief of staff, who won reelection to the Water Replenishment District. Two other candidates, Richard Mayer and Charles M. Trevino, won seats in the Central Basin. But Dymally candidate Clarence Wong, a member of the Water Replenishment District board, lost his bid for reelection.

Throughout the campaign, incumbents and political observers accused Mervyn Dymally of trying to stack the financially potent boards with his cronies. Critics also said the minority candidates were more interested in financial gain than social justice, noting that three board members of the Water Replenishment District--all with ties to Mervyn Dymally--voted themselves hefty car allowances and approved a lobbying contract for a business associate of the former congressman.

"Water directors are supposed to build water treatment plants and provide water conservation measures, not grab car allowances and other such things," said Richard Heath, an incumbent who was defeated by Mark Dymally in the West Basin district. "Let's just see if they serve themselves or the public."

But the minority candidates accused the incumbents of raising smoke screens to avoid talking about the real issues in the campaign, including the diversity of representation, access to contracts for minority businesses and the structure of water rates that some said fall unfairly on poor and urban communities.

"I find it reprehensible that they attributed our drive to . . . personal motives," Mark Dymally said. "We were never disingenuous about our motives. This was about economic empowerment."

Mervyn Dymally said the candidates were successful because they stuck to the issues, but admitted that his involvement in the race probably gave his slate a boost. "I suspect the Dymally name helped a little bit," he said.

Other local races and issues:

Long Beach Proposition D

Voters soundly rejected a $48-million bond proposal that would have provided funds to make the city accessible to the handicapped.

Proposition D, which required a two-thirds vote for approval, failed to gain a majority. The entire City Council endorsed the measure, and Mayor Beverly O'Neill wrote the ballot argument in its favor. Nobody stepped forward to write an opposition argument on the ballot.

City officials speculated that voters, already hurt by the troubled local economy, probably were reluctant to dig into their pockets for yet another public expense. Proposition D would have cost owners of a $150,000 home about $3 per month, according to city figures.

The city now must scramble for funds to make the city accessible to the handicapped, a requirement of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Long Beach, like most other cities, is already behind schedule to make the federally mandated changes. The law set a Jan. 26, 1995, deadline for compliance. If passed, the bond money would have been spent to create wheelchair-accessible curbs, bus stops and buildings, among other things.

Compton Municipal Court Judge

Municipal Court Commissioner Thomas Townsend apparently defeated fellow commissioner Kelvin D. Filer by a razor-thin margin in their race for a six-year term as Municipal Court judge.

With only absentee ballots remaining to be counted, Townsend held a 137-vote lead.

Townsend's strong showing came despite a "not qualified" rating from the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., which rated Filer "well qualified." The association questioned Townsend's objectivity and said he had preconceptions that could affect his legal judgment, criticisms that Townsend disputed.

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