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28th Senate District race more a sprint than marathon

Eight candidates are vying to fill the seat vacated by the death of Sen. Jenny Oropeza. But the campaign period is only 43 days.

February 13, 2011|By Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times

The crowd was sparse at a recent candidates forum, and only half of those running in Tuesday's special election to fill a South Bay state Senate seat showed up.

But that didn't seem to bother political hopeful Mark Lipman, who enthusiastically outlined his plan for getting the state out of its budget deficit.

"I'm a veteran and I've been homeless," Lipman, who is from Los Angeles, told the audience at Century Villages, a housing complex in Long Beach whose residents include formerly homeless families and veterans. "My entire purpose for running for office is to end poverty."

Lipman, who is unaffiliated with a political party, said his plan to end homelessness — by placing the needy in vacant properties, with the government paying fair market rents — also would wipe out the deficit. The rents would put money back into the economy, reduce crime, provide stability for the poor and thus reduce their need for government services, Lipman argued.

While others participating in the forum disputed that his proposal would work, nobody faulted him for offering ideas he hoped would distinguish him from the other largely unknown, underfunded candidates.

Most of the eight people vying to replace the late Sen. Jenny Oropeza, a Long Beach Democrat, have had to rely on local news coverage, the Internet, yard signs, poorly attended forums and shoe leather. Few have had the money to send mail and build an organization to reach about 465,000 voters in a district that stretches from Mar Vista to Long Beach — in a campaign period of only 43 days.

Former Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), with nearly $350,000 on hand at the end of last month and strong name recognition, is considered the heavy favorite Tuesday in the 28th Senate District. The only real question is whether he can muster the majority needed to avoid an April 19 runoff.

Knowing that he would be termed out of the Assembly in December, Lieu made an unsuccessful bid for attorney general in the June primary. Oropeza's death in the fall necessitated the special election.

He got a head start in fundraising and sewed up enough endorsements to cause other area officeholders to back off.

Lieu has sent at least three mailers to voters in the district, where Democrats hold a 48%-25% registration edge over Republicans. One mailer touts his endorsements from the Sierra Club and the California League of Conservation Voters; the others feature his support from civic and business leaders.

Separately, a group of public safety organizations sent its own mailer calling Lieu "law enforcement's choice for state Senate." The Los Angeles Police Protective League last week announced its support as well. On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown is scheduled to announce his backing of Lieu at his Torrance campaign headquarters.

Manhattan Beach attorney and businessman Bob Valentine, one of four Republicans on the ballot, said he has a good shot at forcing a runoff. He estimates he will have spent between $50,000 and $100,000 on the primary and has been able to hire a fulltime campaign manager and send several mailers to the district's Republicans. One of his most prominent endorsers is the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.

"I find that people are very unhappy, very disappointed with Sacramento and there is real angst among the population," said Valentine, who did not attend the recent forum.

Valentine has been active in gay rights organizations but believes he is best known locally for his years on the board of Beacon House, a nonprofit that helps substance abusers get sober and rebuild their lives.

Other Republicans on the ballot are Long Beach educator Martha Flores-Gibson, who said at the forum that she wants more taxpayer dollars to go to local governments and school districts; Jeffrey E. Fortini, a retired U.S. Customs officer from Hawthorne who did not attend; and attorney and affordable-housing builder James P. Thompson of Lomita.

Thompson used the Long Beach forum to castigate Lieu for being a "career politician."

"He's not here tonight because he thinks he's got it in the bag," Thompson said.

Lieu's campaign said he had a scheduling conflict.

Kevin Thomas McGurk, a public defender from Venice and the only other Democrat in the race, offered some of his ideas for cutting state expenses, including suspending the death penalty during the budget crisis and developing alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders.

Candidate Michael Chamness, a consultant to nonprofit organizations, was not at the forum but has used the campaign to criticize the state's new elections rules, which required him to list himself on the ballot as having no party preference when he said he is affiliated with the "coffee party," a group not recognized by the state.

jean.merl@latimes.com

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