By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
A WEEK BEFORE ELECTION DAY, Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn called one of his community town-hall meetings on the ground floor of City Hall. Your typical civic-minded citizens — old men in suits, ladies in sparkly hats — showed up to listen to presentations on the city’s improving schools, massive development projects, public safety and recycling black dollars. Toward the end, when Dorn started talking, what began as a town-hall meeting morphed into a church service.
“I can never forget arriving in Los Angeles with $1.35 in my pocket,” Dorn said, his ministerial tenor rising in the wide room. “I shall never forget that, because, you know, God has been so good. Here’s a youngster from the cotton fields of Oklahoma . . .”
“That’s right!” women in the audience interrupted.
“. . . And they reached out and opened their arms here in the great city of Los Angeles, and then in Inglewood. It’s just, it’s amazing how great my God is.”
“Yes, it is!” they called out, applauding. “That’s right.”
“None of this would have ever happened without my heavenly Father, so when people hear me mention those things, and mention how proud I am of my heavenly Father, I don’t intend to offend anybody, that’s just how I feel,” Dorn said. “You can’t tell me that God is not good. God is good allllll the time.”
“Allllll the time,” the people said.
It went on like this, an out-of-nowhere political revival meeting that Mayor Dorn closed with a prayer and a resounding “Amen.” Not unusual for a guy who opens every Inglewood City Council meeting with a prayer as well — after leading the Pledge of Allegiance, of course.
ROOSEVELT DORN DOESN’T have constituents, he has a congregation. Whenever he speaks before the people of Inglewood, Mayor Dorn transforms himself into an appealing hybrid: politician and man on a pulpit, singing the praises of his rags-to-riches story and his abiding love of the Lord. His political enemies call his supporters “fanatical.” Spend a little time around Inglewood City Hall and you might be inclined to agree. Each week, especially near election time, his supporters crowd the City Council chambers and rise during public comment to offer open praise for the mayor and thinly veiled snubs at his opponents. Many wear Dorn T-shirts and baseball caps. When a fellow City Council member criticizes the mayor from the dais, Dorn supporters boo and hiss from the seats, sparking a temporary breakdown in decorum. Dorn takes it all in stride, leaning back in his tall leather chair, affecting a posture of being above it all.
An ordained minister and former judge and prosecutor — and he’ll remind you of it frequently — Dorn has been the center of gravity in Inglewood politics since 1997, when he inherited the Mayor’s Office from longtime Inglewood pol Ed Vincent, the city’s first African-American mayor. Dorn was re-elected in 1998 and in 2002 by comfortable margins. The well-financed incumbent had been looking forward to another clear mandate on November 7 from Inglewood voters for his all-business, all-the-time platform. He seemed pretty confident going into the election. “Blessed and highly favored as always,” he answers every time someone asks, “How are you?”
Alas, God faltered a bit for the mayor this time around. Dorn picked up 49 percent of the vote during last week’s mayoral election, just short of the necessary 51 percent required to avoid a runoff. Now, he’ll face Judy Dunlap, his archnemesis on the City Council, in a new January vote.
Dunlap can thank the other candidate in the race for her good fortune. Progressive activist Danny Tabor, who finished third on Election Day, received a $21,312 independent-expenditure contribution from a political-action committee that flooded the city with nasty mailers attacking Dorn’s ethics. The main assault was an allegation of unethical behavior on the part of Dorn for taking out a $500,000 low-interest loan from the city in 2004 to refurbish his home. His opponents accused Dorn of abusing a loan program meant initially as an incentive to attract competitive candidates for city administrative positions by making it easy and affordable for them to buy homes within city limits. As an elected official, detractors said, Dorn should live in the city anyway.
The independent PAC mailers featured images of pigs wearing sunglasses with dollar signs on them, some with illustrations of maggots. One particularly low piece, faulting Dorn for the recent rise in crime, was adorned with pixilated images of menacing Latino gangbangers. (The PAC shared the same office building with Tabor’s campaign, but he said he had nothing to do with the mailers’ content.) The attack mailers appear to have had an effect on the race. Tabor captured 22 percent of the vote, and Dunlap took 29 percent.
But the November 7 results weren’t only the doing of Dorn’s opponents. Besides the home-loan scandal, Dorn still carries the taint of a high-profile battle over a proposed Wal-Mart. In 2004, the surly multinational retail company sought to build a Supercenter smack in the middle of Inglewood, a move opponents argued would enable a competition-crushing, worker-cannibalizing mega-store to gain a foothold in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. A coalition of unions, community groups and elected officials built a grassroots campaign to defeat a ballot measure that would have allowed Wal-Mart to circumvent normal planning procedures for the proposed site.