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Politicians pay tribute to trailblazer

They honor former lieutenant governor and lawmaker Mervyn Dymally, who died Sunday.

October 09, 2012|Jean Merl and Patrick McGreevy
  • Mervyn Dymally was the first African American to hold partisan statewide office in California; he served in both houses of the Legislature and the House of Representatives. He is shown above in the front row on the right appearing on "Meet the Press" in 1976 when he served as California's lieutenant governor.
Mervyn Dymally was the first African American to hold partisan statewide… (Associated Press )

Today's rising politicians were too young to have watched former lieutenant governor and lawmaker Mervyn Dymally as he blazed trails for future generations. But they were quick to add their voices to the tributes and remembrances after Dymally died Sunday at 86.

The first African American to hold partisan statewide office in California, Dymally, who served in both houses of the Legislature and the House of Representatives, was "a true role model for generations of Californians," said state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, 47, the first black politician to hold the state's top legal post.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, October 10, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Dymally remembered: An article in the Oct. 9 LATEXtra section about tributes to the late politician Mervyn Dymally said that spokeswoman Jasmyne Cannick was his press secretary when he was lieutenant governor in the 1970s. In fact, she filled that role after he returned to the state Assembly in 2002.

Monday's tributes also came from Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), 43; Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, 44, and Assemblyman Isadore Hall III (D-Compton), 40. Dymally, Hall said, "helped open the doors of opportunity for his and future generations.... I am honored to have called him my friend and mentor."

Dymally's near-contemporaries Monday recalled a man who made a priority of nurturing future generations of African American officeholders and fighting for the state's most disadvantaged residents.

Former State Librarian Kevin Starr said "there was an elegance to the man" that served him well in office. On Monday, Starr recounted a moment during one of Dymally's last years in the Assembly, when he spoke during budget deliberations to castigate colleagues who were considering cutting a program that paid for burials of youngsters in the foster care system.

"I remember he rose up and said, 'Has California come to this? Is this the dream of California?' It was a very dramatic, human moment."

Gov. Jerry Brown, who served his first stint in the state's top office when Dymally held the No. 2 post in the 1970s, issued a statement praising Dymally as "an extraordinary man who spent his life breaking new ground and advancing the cause of civil rights and equality."

As a California officeholder, Dymally provided the tiebreaking vote to repeal the state's anti-sodomy law, making him a hero in the gay community. And he focused on issues important to his district, including healthcare, the fate of the now-closed Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center and a key emergency loan to keep the Compton Community College District afloat.

In Congress, Dymally worked to address crime, unemployment, drug abuse and access to medical care for the largely low-income residents of his L.A.-area district. On the House Foreign Affairs Committee and as chairman of the subcommittee on Africa in the 1980s, Dymally battled apartheid in South Africa.

Even as his health failed, he maintained the drive to bring others along.

As recently as three weeks ago, he worked on Rep. Laura Richardson's reelection campaign, setting up meetings and rounding up volunteers and contributors for the Los Angeles-area Democrat, said Jasmyne Cannick.

Cannick was a spokeswoman for Dymally when he was lieutenant governor and now is working on the Richardson campaign.

"He was still very politically active," Cannick said.

Richardson said in a statement she was "grateful for the support that he showed me and the knowledge that he shared with me." Dymally "left behind a legacy like none other to cherish and carry on," she said.

Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), Richardson's rival for a newly drawn congressional district that stretches from the L.A. Harbor area north to Lynwood and South Gate, also praised the man who had supported her competitor, calling him "an icon, a legend, and one of the most loved and revered leaders in all of California."

Services are pending.

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jean.merl@latimes.com

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

Merl reported from Los Angeles and McGreevy from Sacramento.

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