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Longtime politician and retired police chief vie for Inglewood mayor

Voters Tuesday will decide a runoff contest between incumbent Mayor Daniel K. Tabor, a former councilman and Commerce Department official, and retired Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts.

January 10, 2011|By Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times

When Inglewood voters go to the polls Tuesday to choose the city's mayor, they will decide between a longtime elected official who says his deep history in Inglewood gives him an edge, and a retired police chief who says the city needs a leader experienced in running large operations instead of another politician.

Incumbent Mayor Daniel K. Tabor, a former Inglewood councilman with a long career in public and private service, faces James T. Butts Jr., who once headed the Santa Monica Police Department and was a deputy chief of Inglewood's police force. Tabor bested Butts in November's election but failed to win a majority, forcing a runoff.

The victor will win a four-year term and the opportunity to provide a fresh slate for Inglewood's top office, following the resignation last year of Tabor's predecessor, Roosevelt Dorn, amid public corruption charges.

"I think that Inglewood has a second chance to really clean up its image — the taint, the scandal — and to really project itself again as a place where you have an administration that … can provide a clean, efficient, well-run city," said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a former Inglewood resident and president of the Inglewood-based Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, a nonpartisan forum dedicated to education and civic engagement.

Tabor, 56, who grew up in Inglewood and spent most of his life working there, has promised to create jobs, improve schools, reduce traffic gridlock, build new housing and enhance residents' quality of life.

Since winning a runoff last August to complete Dorn's term, Tabor said he has slashed the city's almost $18-million structural budget deficit by two-thirds. He also is working with the Metro transit system to build two light-rail stations in Inglewood that would provide new job opportunities, help revitalize the downtown business district and give the city a chance to "rebound from recession."

But Tabor also has overseen deep cuts to city services and layoffs of more than two dozen employees.

Tabor highlighted his experience at the city, county and federal levels, including three years in the Commerce Department during the Clinton administration.

"We need someone who has the breadth of experience working at different levels of government … a person who can administrate, manage and problem-solve," Tabor said. "We don't need a military dictatorship coming from someone who has solely a police perspective."

Butts served as Santa Monica police chief for 15 years, spent almost two decades with the Inglewood Police Department and most recently was head of security for Los Angeles World Airports. He said his priorities are public safety, improving public schools, bolstering economic development and creating jobs.

"The city is in a precarious financial position," said Butts, 57. "The infrastructure has not been maintained. There is a problem with violent gang crime."

Butts said the city's fiscal deficit has negatively affected policing, citing recent police layoffs and cutbacks approved by the City Council, including Tabor. He said his experience in law enforcement and work in other municipalities give him a broader perspective. He said that crime was reduced when he ran the Santa Monica Police Department and that he helped improve the security operations division at LAX.

"The city is in need of someone who has operational, executive and public safety experience," Butts said. "Not just a politician."

Butts, who moved to Inglewood last year and lived in the city for a few years in the 1970s, has touted his distance from Inglewood politics, in light of the previous scandal-plagued city administration.

Butts has attacked Tabor's integrity, citing the mayor's alleged participation in the illegal taping of a telephone conversation Tabor had with Gloria Gray, a director of the West Basin Municipal Water District. Butts says the mayor's campaign website misuses her image and words to vilify his opponent.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, confirmed that her agency's Public Integrity Division was "actively reviewing a complaint" against Tabor. No further details were provided.

Tabor dismissed the charges as "political fodder."

Voter participation typically has been dismal in Inglewood, with past polls yielding as little as 9% turnout of registered voters, according to election data.

Hutchinson said whichever candidate wins, his priorities should include business development, neighborhood revitalization and ensuring citizens have easy access to communicate with city officials, a feature some residents said Dorn's leadership lacked.

People "are desperate to have a clean administration and an administration they feel is responsible to them," Hutchinson said.

ann.simmons@latimes.com

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