The growth of the city's Latino and Asian populations since Tom Bradley left office in 1993 after 20 years as the city's first black mayor has left African Americans facing an inevitable decline in political power. In the May 21 election, an African American may lose a South Los Angeles council seat for the first time in 50 years.
In the mayoral contest, South Los Angeles remains a major battleground, and — if the candidates' attention to the community is a fair gauge — black voters could hold the key to selecting the city's next chief executive.
Their political power may be on the wane, said political scientist Jaime Regalado of Cal State L.A., but "they're counted on heavily to make a difference with their feet, at the polls, in this mayoral election."
"In some ways, it seems like a contradiction," he said.
African Americans were pivotal in choosing the city's last two mayors. In 2001, they were a pillar of support for James K. Hahn, the son of South Los Angeles political icon Kenneth Hahn, a Los Angeles County supervisor for 40 years.