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Potential candidates explore run for 51st Assembly District seat

March 30, 2009|Jean Merl

Officially, at least, there is not yet a vacancy in the Los Angeles area's 51st Assembly District. But the jockeying to replace Assemblyman Curren Price Jr. is already underway.

Price emerged with the Democratic nomination for the 26th state Senate District in last Tuesday's special election and is virtually assured of winning the May 19 runoff, political experts said. Democrats make up 66% of the district's voters, and his opponents -- Republican Nachum Shifren and Peace and Freedom candidate Cindy Varela Henderson -- are little known and under-financed.

So it's not surprising that potential successors to Price's South Bay-area Assembly seat already are testing the political waters.

"Now is the time to start that discussion," Fred MacFarlane, who is helping oversee Price's Senate campaign, said of the talks the assemblyman's would-be replacements need to be having with potential political and financial backers.

"It's all going to happen pretty quickly," MacFarlane said in explaining why potential candidates need to start lining up support for what is likely to be an attractive opportunity for local politicians looking to move up.

"Just about every elected official in Inglewood . . . and a lot of [those in] the small cities are going to be looking at it," said Dermot Givens, an attorney and campaign consultant.

The continuing rounds of political musical chairs in this pocket of Los Angeles County began about a year ago, when then-state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas filed to run for retiring Yvonne B. Burke's seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. He won in a November runoff, opening the vacancy in the 26th District. Just 6% of district voters cast ballots in last week's election, half of them by mail.

Assuming Price wins the Senate runoff, as expected, the governor will be required by law to call a special election for the Assembly seat.

The 51st Assembly District stretches from Westchester and Inglewood through Hawthorne, Lawndale and Gardena and includes small parts of Los Angeles and some unincorporated communities. Although Latinos make up nearly half the residents in this 65% Democratic district, blacks account for about a third of the registered voters, the largest segment, and the seat traditionally has been held by an African American.

A well-oiled campaign organization and strong fundraising will be key in the special election, in which turnout is expected to be very low, said Kerman Maddox, a longtime political consultant.

Maddox said endorsements, particularly from longtime political rivals Ridley-Thomas and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), also will be an important factor. Ridley-Thomas has strong ties to labor, and Waters continues to be popular in Inglewood and Gardena, key parts of the district.

"If I'm running for the 51st Assembly District, I want the endorsement of Maxine Waters," Maddox said. "It has a lot more upsides than downsides."

Givens disagreed, saying that Ridley-Thomas' backing would carry more weight. He said Waters' endorsements of losing candidates in last fall's supervisorial election and last week's Senate contest showed she had lost clout.

Among the likely candidates is Gardena City Councilman Steve Bradford, who lost the 2006 Democratic primary to Price -- the last time the seat was open -- by little more than 100 votes.

Political experts call him the likely front-runner at this point, in part because of his strong showing then.

Bradford, who has registered a fundraising committee with the state, said in an interview last week that he already has spoken with Price and a number of others about running.

"If Curren is successful on May 19, I'm 99% certain I'll be a candidate for the Assembly seat," Bradford said.

Another Democrat who said he was interested in the seat is Lawndale Councilman Robert Pullen-Miles, a district aide to state Sen. Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach).

"I've been talking to all the community and stakeholders to determine if I am going to make a bid for it," Pullen-Miles said last week.

Others whose names have been mentioned as potential candidates include Gloria Gray, a former school board member in Inglewood, Inglewood Councilmen Daniel Tabor and Eloy Morales Jr., and Hawthorne Mayor Larry Guidi. It was not clear last week whether any of them is considering a run.

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jean.merl@latimes.com

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