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There's Anger at Davis in the Black Community

Precinct walker says rejecting Prop. 54 is an easy sell, but getting people to commit to voting no on the recall is another matter.

October 03, 2003|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Going door to door in Watts on Wednesday, Linda Davis had no trouble persuading registered Democrats that they should vote against Proposition 54, the initiative on Tuesday's ballot that would bar the state from collecting most kinds of racial information.

But when it came to urging a no vote on the recall, the precinct walker from the African American Voter REP Project ran into a lot of Arnold Schwarzenegger fans and plenty of anger at Gov. Gray Davis.

"Get him out now!" shouted Chad Findley, 28, complaining that his car registration fees had rocketed from $90 to $238.

Linda Davis had more luck with a friend of Findley's, Darrel Daniels, 42, who vowed to vote no. But a relative of Daniels, lifelong Democrat Jimmy Jackson, 63, said he was leaning toward Schwarzenegger.

The precinct walker was working the Nickerson Gardens housing project as part of a push by African American community leaders to turn out the vote against Proposition 54 and keep the governorship firmly in Democratic hands.

"Our core values are in jeopardy," said Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson Jr., who represents part of South Los Angeles. "This is a call to arms" not just for African Americans, but for Democrats, he said.

In the days before the election, leaders say they plan rallies, a blitz in local churches, and visits to thousands of homes to get their message out. Assemblyman Mark Ridley-Thomas, chairman of the Voter REP project, said precinct walkers have contacted 15,000 voters in largely African American precincts since Sept. 20 and plan to speak with thousands more.

Blacks are traditionally a loyal Democratic constituency and, so far, Ridley-Thomas said, more than two-thirds of voters contacted said they plan to vote against the recall.

Jackie Saunders, 36, a single mother in South Los Angeles, is one of them -- although as she spoke outside the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Plaza this week, she sometimes sounded as if Schwarzenegger already had won.

"We're going to lose out," she said of single mothers, adding that she was particularly worried about cuts in after-school and tutoring programs.

Still, some African American voters, particularly younger people, say a Schwarzenegger victory would not be a bad thing.

At the New Millennium Sports Barbershop on Crenshaw Boulevard on Wednesday afternoon, barber Tracen Hunter said he was backing Schwarzenegger, especially after learning how much more he will have to pay to register his car. Black leaders may be urging a no vote on the recall, Hunter said, but "they've got money to pay for the DMV hike."

A co-worker, Joel Payne, a lifelong Democrat, agreed that Davis had to go, but for a different reason: "Taking money out of junior colleges and putting it in prisons." But Payne does not want to see Schwarzenegger in Sacramento. "He has no experience," he said.

Down the block, Daniel Green, 42, was not troubled that Schwarzenegger had never held political office.

"He's a great movie star. That goes hand in hand [with politics]," Green said. "The young people need someone to look up to."

The Rev. William J. Johnson, pastor of Calvary Church in Pasadena and an organizer for Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, said he feared younger voters were letting their love of Schwarzenegger's movies get in the way of their own best interests.

"We have to push people not to vote emotionally but to vote with their minds," he said.

But Johnson said a bigger worry was that the recall would make some young African Americans feel cynical about the political process. In last year's gubernatorial election, black community leaders pushed hard to get voters to go to the polls, he said."Now the recall is saying, your vote doesn't count," Johnson said.

Erika Martin, 26, expressed such cynicism. "They never do us minorities right," she said as a hairdresser pulled at her tresses Wednesday. "Our votes don't count. The machines don't work."

City Councilman Bernard C. Parks said he worried that disillusioned young people would drop out of the political process and weaken the power of the black electorate.

"The strength of the black community is high-propensity voters who vote as a bloc. With a lower percentage of the population, it's the only way you can show your strength," he said. "As older voters ... move on, who is going to replace them?"

It hasn't helped inspire people in South Los Angeles that few of the gubernatorial candidates have spent much time campaigning in their neighborhoods, said John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League.

Gov. Davis visited South Los Angeles in the company of former President Bill Clinton, Mack said, and Arianna Huffington, who dropped out of the recall race, visited a few times.

"The others haven't even gone through [the] motions of creating an impression that they are concerned about critical issues in the African American community," he said.

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