Los Angeles political consultants were already predicting Friday that a "crowded field of candidates" would enter the race to succeed the late Rep. Julian Dixon in the district that stretches from the Crenshaw area to parts of West Los Angeles.
"One thing that is important in that district is that you have a candidate with strong support of the African American community but who can also win the votes of the Anglo voters in places like Culver City," said longtime political consultant Rick Taylor. "I think there will be some surprise names that come up. Someone mentioned Magic Johnson's name. I don't think he'll run for it, but we're talking about that kind of person."
Among possible candidates cited were City Councilmen Mark Ridley-Thomas and Nate Holden--whom Dixon narrowly defeated when he initially won the seat--state Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City), Assemblyman Herb Wesson (D-Culver City), former state Sen. Diane Watson, former Assemblywoman Gwen Moore and former Los Angeles Police Commission President Gary Greenebaum.
"This will be one of the most competitive races that we've seen in our community in a real long time," said political consultant Kerman Maddox. "Believe you me, the phones are ringing already. People are testing the waters. We are going to see the old guard and the young guard running. . . . This seat is still what you would call an African American seat, but if you don't have crossover appeal, you won't win the election."
Despite all the speculation, Ridley-Thomas and Murray said it was too soon to discuss successors.
Dixon "was a close friend of the family, and I wouldn't yet tread on the mourning process," Murray said. However, he added, "It would be an honor to succeed him."
Said Ridley-Thomas: "I think this is a time to reflect on how we were made better by Julian Dixon's public service, and the rest of it will take care of itself, in terms of who may choose to run for that seat.
"I have had considerable regard for Julian Dixon for a very long time" he added. "He will be remembered as one of the most committed problem-solvers we have seen in the last quarter of a century in public office."
Indeed, Dixon's death early Friday deprives Los Angeles of one of its most thoughtful and admired political figures, one whose personality bridged partisan divisions and whose leadership helped nurture a generation of politicians.
"This man is not replaceable," said Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Mission Hills). "We will have to deal with the loss on the personal, institutional and community levels. He was so skillful."
Serving his Los Angeles district for 22 years, Dixon forged strong ties with the region's congressional leaders, as well as with a host of local and state officials. He bridged the gap between the generation of Los Angeles liberals headed by Mayor Tom Bradley and county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn and that of the current crop of elected leaders.
State legislators Wesson and Murray both were his close friends and colleagues, as was county Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, whose congressional seat Dixon won in 1978, beating Holden in an achingly close election for the vacancy created when Burke ran for state attorney general.
Dixon and Burke remained close for the rest of his life.
But Dixon's ties were not just to Democrats. Famously gracious and soft-spoken, though bracingly direct, he worked with leaders of both parties to secure transportation money for Los Angeles and to navigate the political cross-currents created by the region's failures to build an extensive subway system.
Largely as a result of his transportation role, Dixon won the admiration and trust of Mayor Richard Riordan, a Republican.
"I considered Julian my father confessor whenever there was a tough challenge in Los Angeles," Riordan said in a statement Friday. "He was the first person I would call upon for advice."
Like others, county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky remembered Dixon as a conscientious representative devoted to the region and to a code of civility that set him apart from many other elected leaders. "The country has lost a statesman-politician, of which there are very few," Yaroslavsky said. "Los Angeles has lost its most effective advocate."
City Atty. James K. Hahn said Dixon had been a friend for more than 20 years.
"As a leader in Congress and the community, Julian Dixon was a tireless champion of civil rights and the fair and just treatment of all people," Hahn said. "It was what he stood for, believed in and worked for his entire life."