Curren Price Jr., a top contender for a state Senate seat in Central Los Angeles, came under attack Saturday from rivals who portrayed him as a special-interest crony and questioned the legitimacy of his recent move into the district.
Price, a state assemblyman and former Inglewood City Council member, has accepted major donations from casinos and the horse-racing industry, the main focus of the criticism.
"You have to have someone with the backbone to say no to special interests," rival Robert Cole of Baldwin Hills said at a Culver City forum of candidates in the March 24 special election to fill the 26th Senate District seat.
Cole, who led African American outreach for Barack Obama's presidential campaign in California, was one of several opponents to fault Price for his ties with donors pushing bills in Sacramento.
Price's most dogged antagonist, South Los Angeles management consultant Mervin Leon Evans, said it was "a disgrace that special interests are trying to ram one candidate down our throat."
Pressing the residency issue, Evans asked, "How can you represent a district that less than six months ago you didn't live in?"
In his defense, Price described himself as an ally of janitors, teachers, nurses, firefighters, police officers, healthcare workers and small business owners. "I'm proud to represent these special interests," Price said.
Price also touted his endorsement by Mark Ridley-Thomas, who vacated the Senate seat after winning election in November to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
After the forum, Price said he moved in November to a rented apartment in Ladera Heights, which is in the Senate district, from the house that he owns in Inglewood, which is not in the district. A family member, whom he did not name, now rents the Inglewood house from him, Price said.
The strongly Democratic district covers Silver Lake, Los Feliz, Hollywood, Hancock Park, Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills, Ladera Heights, Mid-Wilshire, Culver City, Westwood, Century City and other nearby areas.
It is one of the state's most ethnically diverse, with Latino, African American and white residents making up substantial portions of the population.
Price, Cole and Evans are competing with three fellow Democrats: Culver City school board member Saundra Davis, Assemblyman Mike Davis and financial analyst Jonathan Friedman, who did not attend the forum.
Also in the contest are Republican Nachum Shifren, a rabbi and substitute high school teacher, and Cindy Varela Henderson, a telephone technician running on the Peace and Freedom Party line.
Shifren stuck to a hard line on social issues. He bemoaned the presence of "Mexican illegal aliens" in California, the teaching of Marxist courses in public schools and free-lunch programs for the poor.
"Here's my program: Make your own doggone lunch," he said. He called for lower taxes and warned, "We can't kowtow to these environmental wackos who want to bring us into the Dark Ages."
Saundra Davis stressed her commitment to public schools, namely lower class size and programs to fight childhood obesity and diabetes. She also called for spending less on prisons and more on schools, saying the current balance between the two was "a travesty."
Davis was the only candidate to name the reopening of Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital in Willowbrook, south of Watts as a top priority. A longtime aide to South Los Angeles elected officials, including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and former county Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, Davis has served for two years in the Assembly. One of his main achievements in Sacramento, he said, was legislation to curb elder abuse.
All of the Democrats agreed that California should abolish the required two-thirds vote to raise taxes, which has enabled the Legislature's Republican minority to stymie budget deals between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic majority. Henderson went further, suggesting increases in property taxes for corporations, along with new taxes on oil companies and the wealthy.
Price, too, suggested higher taxes for those who make more than $1 million a year, along with a five-year freeze in tuition hikes at state colleges and universities.