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37th District looks like a 1-woman race

Democrat Laura Richardson is likely -- even by an opponent's assessment -- to succeed the late Rep. Juanita Millender-MacDonald.

August 20, 2007|John L. Mitchell | Times Staff Writer

Assemblywoman Laura Richardson (D-Long Beach) is the overwhelming favorite to win Tuesday's special election in the 37th Congressional District, which encompasses Compton, Carson, much of Long Beach and parts of South Los Angeles. The seat was left vacant by the death of Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald last spring.

Richardson is running against candidates from three parties: the Green Party's Daniel A. Brezenoff, a social worker and peace activist; Libertarian Herb Peters, a retired aerospace engineer; and Republican John Kanaley, a Long Beach police officer.

"It's a done deal," said Ken Brown, a mechanical engineer who attended a candidate forum Wednesday. "Unless something catastrophic happens to [Richardson's] campaign, I don't see anything happening to stop her from going to Washington."

In the heavily Democratic district, Richardson is considered a shoo-in, even among her rivals.

"It would take a miracle," said Peters, a self-described Christian Libertarian.

Voter turnout in Tuesday's contest is expected to be lower than the 12% recorded in the June primary, when Richardson defeated state Sen. Jenny Oropeza; Valerie McDonald, daughter of Millender-McDonald; and 15 other candidates. Because Richardson, the top Democratic vote-getter, failed to garner 50% of the vote, she was forced into a runoff against the other parties' top candidates.

At a small forum Wednesday at the Bixby Knolls Christian Church in Long Beach, nearly 75 people -- nearly half dressed in red global-warming awareness T-shirts -- turned out to hear the candidates square off as if the race were neck and neck.

"It was entertainment," Brown said. "We had one candidate who was a Bible thumper and another spouting about the greenhouse effect. It was great, marvelous for the community."

Brown, who supported Oropeza during the primary, was cool to all four candidates, although he said that Richardson seemed the most qualified.

"She seemed to have the answers that most people were looking for," he said. "She seemed to have the best point that she could hit the ground running, more than the other candidates."

At the church and in stops throughout the district, Richardson has stressed her experience as someone who was born in Southern California, graduated from UCLA in 1984, and worked at a Montessori preschool and, later, the Xerox Corp. She worked as a field deputy for Millender-McDonald for two years, won a seat on the Long Beach City Council in 2000 and served until 2006 and also worked for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante until she won an Assembly seat in 2006.

"We need a person who is ready to step in and perform immediately," Richardson said.

Kanaley, the Republican in the race, said the election gives voters a "clear choice between a career politician and a career law enforcement professional."

A sergeant with the Long Beach Police Department, Kanaley said he supports the war in Iraq and recently returned from his second tour there. He plans to return for a third tour if he's not elected, he said. Although he was born and raised in the district, Kanaley revealed that he no longer lives there; that doesn't disqualify him from running for the seat, but it brought a quick response from Richardson.

"It's important to have a person represent you who lives where you live and sees what you see," she said.

Green Party candidate Brezenoff said he was pleased just to be getting more of his message out, but was not sure how much good it was doing.

"I'm getting more attention, but less attention is being paid on the race," he said.

If he had his way, Brezenoff said, he would support the impeachment of President Bush and has criticized the government for a foreign policy that put "profits before human rights."

At the forum, he received several rounds of applause from the group with the red T-shirts, especially for his criticism of corporate profits.

"Too many greasy palms leads to greasy skies," he said.

Richardson and Peters have also been critical of the war.

Peters said the U.S. should cut "our losses and withdraw before we lose one more of our brave soldiers."

john.mitchell@latimes.com

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