(June 23, 2007) -- Just days before voters in 80% of LB and communities including Signal Hill, Carson, Compton and Willowbrook [district map, select America's next member of Congress, emotions flared and racial issues resurfaced in what may be the final multi-candidate appearance before the June 26 special election.
A crowd of nearly 100 people heard State Senator Jenny Oropeza (D., Carson-LB), a polished public speaker with 19 years of elective experience, become audibly emotional, her voice at one point seemingly approaching tears, while retaining her composure to complete her closing statement in emphatic tones. To hear this, click here.
The Senator's reaction came after fellow Democrat candidate George Parmer, Jr. ("I'm a truck driver, a working man, not a politician") said that at a candidate forum a day earlier, someone [not a candidate] suggested that he and other less well funded candidates should drop out of the race in favor of a candidate who could win. Mr. Parmer interpreted this to mean defeating a Hispanic candidate [Sen. Oropeza] to benefit a Black candidate...which he likened to returning to the "road to segregation." To hear his statement, click here
Following Mr. Parmer and Senator Oropeza, Assemblywoman Laura Richardson (D., Carson-LB) delivered her closing statement, reiterating her stance that the Congressional seat held by the late Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald (D., Carson-LB) should be held by someone from "our community." Assemblywoman Richardson indicated the phrase means someone with a working class background reflective of the district, along with the legislative experience to do the job. "I'm not speaking about race. I'm talking about respect," Assemblywoman Richardson said. To hear this, click here.
Assemblywoman Richardson is one of several African-Americans in the field of 17 ballot candidates (11 Dems, 4 Repubs, 1 Green, 1 Libertarian) which includes Valerie McDonald, daughter of the late Cong. Millender-McDonald.
The June 21 Rancho Dominguez forum drew 13 candidates plus representatives of Ms. McDonald and Republican John Kanaley. The event was mainly mundane until closing statements when Mr. Parmer said:
Mr. Parmer: You know, I'm a little angry. Yesterday at a forum, most of us were kind of asked to step down, swallow our pride and support a Black candidate, because we really didn't want an Hispanic candidate to take the seat.
Now that was couched language, it wasn't correct. I'm a little unhappy with that, not so much because they asked me to do it [but] because they assumed that I'm a racist.
And I'm a little angry because of my reaction to it. I didn't jump up and down. I didn't yell. I just kind of shook my head and said 'here we go again.' Dirty politics.
Some folks would have us believe that it takes a Black man to represent a, a Black person to represent a Black district, or a Brown person to represent a Brown district, and that my friends is the road to segregation. We've been there. It's a bad road [applause rises] to go down. We ought to stop goin' down it again. [applause continues] We need a candidate who's going to represent all the people [applause tails off], all the people. Every single one of us out here needs equal representation. I don't care who you are or what you do for a living. Thank you.
The event mentioned by Mr. Parmer was a June 20 candidate forum/endorsement selection event held by LB's Ministers Alliance, a prominent voice in LB's African-American community. Pastor Garon Harden, Sr., leader of the group since 1994, told LBReport.com that the event combined a candidate forum (to hear/evaluate candidates) followed by a meeting of the Ministers Alliance to select a candidate for the group's endorsement...and candidates were informed of this prior to the event, he said. Pastor Harden said Assemblywoman Richardson and Ms. McDonald attended the event; State Senator Oropeza didn't attend and sent a representative.
Pastor Harden said he opened his group's event by saying that choosing a candidate shouldn't be based on race...and underscored his point by using a plainspoken vernacular ["we've been screwed" in the past by all sides, he quipped.] At the end of the June 20 event, he said to the candidates "that perhaps if you feel you're not going to get enough votes, it might be best if you'd endorse someone else who may have a possibility of winning."
Pastor Harden said the Ministers Alliance then met for about an hour and endorsed Assemblywoman Richardson. "We endorsed Laura because we felt she may have more experience than the others who took part and attended our event," Pastor Harden said, noting that Sen. Oropeza wasn't present and had sent a representative.
Pastor Harden indicated that among the questions the Ministers Alliance considered important and asked the candidates present was how they'd handle immigrants already here and what they'd do to secure the border. Based on the candidates' responses to that question "and to others we heard from the candidates who attended, we endorsed Laura," Pastor Harden said.
Against that backdrop, Senator Oropeza -- the official endorsee of the CA Democratic Party based a local Dem Party caucus in May -- took the floor at the June 21 Rancho Dominguez forum. Starting slowly, her voice building in intensity and emotion, Senator Oropeza said:
Senator Oropeza: You know, I've been very, very proud and honored to represent the communities of this 37th district, with the exception of the Willowbrook community which would be new to me, over these 19 years.
And I really feel deeply that when people cast their vote for somebody, they really put a lot of trust in them.
And I carry that responsibility very, very deeply in me, in my heart [building emotion in voice] and in my work.
And I want you to know that if I get elected, I'm going to keep on carrying that responsibility, and that passion, and that fight for every member of this community, and for the things that we need, because you know what? The people of the 37th deserve the best, and we don't always get it.
The things we talked about tonight, we don't always get it but damn it we deserve it and I'm going to fight for it. [applause]
Shortly thereafter, Assemblywoman Laura Richardson delivered her closing statement:
Assemblywoman Richardson: ...Let me ask you a simple question. We're here because of the passing of Congresswoman McDonald. I'm the only person on this panel who actually worked for her, worked in the 37th Congressional district and did the work of a member on her behalf.
Who would hire to fix your shoes? Who would hire to embalm your loved one's body? Who would you choose to work on your braid? Who would you choose to fix an elevator? Come on now people. You need an experienced person who can do this job. This is not for play.
And you know what, I've been in the paper saying we need a representative from our community. Let me tell you what that means. From our community, I've been working since the age of 12. From our community, I cleaned toilets at UCLA to work my way through school. From our community, my mother, she got her degree at the same time my sister did. From our community, I worked two jobs for the last ten years.
I'm not speaking about race, I'm talking about respect.
And oh, by the way, how dare anyone cuss in the house of God.
You know who your representative is: Laura Richardson for Congress. [applause]
Valerie McDonald, daughter of the late Congresswoman, didn't attend the June 21 forum but was represented by her campaign manager. He stressed conservative positions on which Ms. McDonald's views contrasted with those of Sen. Oropeza and Assemblywoman Richardson.
He said Ms. McDonald opposes same sex marriages (drawing applause from some in the church crowd). "While she believes heartily in the inalienable rights granted to every citizen of the United States, she does not believe that the sanctity of marriage was reserved between the same sex or same gender unions by God, but rather between man and woman to reproduce offspring and populate the earth," Ms. McDonald's campaign manager said. He said she also "will work to secure dollars to expand the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles."
Wrigley area activist Lee Davis, who's waged a spirited campaign including printed materials and CDs, took a swipe at the three elected officials in the race. "Look at the cost of these elections. You've got three people up here who are elected officials, and if they win we have to have another special election. These monies should be going for health care, security and security the borders on the port."
Green Party candidate Daniel Brezenoff chided Dems for, he said, appropriating Green Party anti-war and pro-enviro positions as their own while he and other Greens have been against the Iraq war from the start....and criticized Dems for continuing to fund it...as did candidates Jeff Price and Peter Matthews. Brezenoff and Matthews also said they did not accept corporate campaign contributions.
To hear all the candidates' closing statements in full as delivered, click here. Speaking order: Rep for candidate Valerie McDonald, Rep for candidate John Kaneley, Councilman Ed Wilson, Jeff Price, Herb Peters, George Parmer, Senator Jenny Oropeza, Peter Matthews, Assemblywoman Laura Richardson, Felicia Ford, Merv Evans, Bishop L.J. Guillory, Bill Grisolia, Lee Davis, Daniel Brezenoff.
The forum was moderated by "Big Money" Griffin, a regular participant on radio talk shows including KJLH's "Front Page."
In the June 26 election, the Democrat with the most votes (likely less than a majority in the multi-candidate field) will proceed to an August 21 runoff against the top-vote getters from the other parties...in a district drawn in 2001 by Sacramento Dems (including then-Assemblywoman Oropeza) to favor reelecting Dems...including then-incumbent Congresswoman. Millender-McDonald.