The turn of the century may inspire lofty speeches in some, but for the batch of state Assembly members being ousted by term limits this year, 2000 is bottom-line time, just another ring of the egg timer. The institution of term limits has had many politically unfortunate effects on elected officials — nonstop campaigning, musical-chair scrambling for seats, chronic concern over job security rather than constituent issues. The embodiment of all that is wrong with them so far has got to be the battle between termed-out Assemblymen Dick Floyd (D-Wilmington) and soon to be termed-out Ed Vincent (D-Inglewood) for the 25th District state Senate seat (which is being vacated by Teresa Hughes, a fellow casualty of term limits). First, the somewhat good news: Vincent and Floyd are both colorful characters, famous for their bluster and roguishness and, at points, for being loudly on the right side of issues and legislation close to the heart of the working class that populates both of their South Bay–area districts. Both claim that jobs, better health care and public education are top legislative priorities. The bad news: Both are old political warhorses, with 40-plus years in elected office between them, who have been bald opportunists more interested in perpetuating themselves in office than anything else. The ugly: Floyd is white, Vincent is black, the electorate in the 25th is predominantly black (one of the last in the state so configured) and overwhelmingly minority, Sacramento has been losing black representatives faster than you can say Elihu Harris . . . you get the picture.
Floyd bristles at the notion that Vincent is a shoo-in in a Senate district that stretches over Gardena, Compton, Lawndale, Hawthorne, Inglewood and Lynwood, and is also roughly 20 percent Latino, 20 percent white and 3 percent Asian. ”The notion that only somebody black should represent black people — that’s racist!“ declares Floyd. ”It‘s bullshit. What are you gonna do for Latinos, Asians, whites? I have a fine voting record for poor working people of all colors, and I’m proud of it.“
Vincent complains that Floyd is a blatant carpetbagger who only claimed a Lawndale address late last year to qualify himself to run, which means, among other things, he technically no longer lives in the district he currently represents. (Floyd admits he recently moved from Harbor City to an apartment on the Lawndale block where he grew up.) In assuming that he even has a chance of capturing the district with virtually no name recognition, Vincent also says Floyd is guilty of the worst kind of political and racial hubris. ”In some ways, it‘s disrespectful to our community to do what he does, come in and say, ’I‘m going to save you,“ huffs the Inglewood ex-mayor and school board member. ”I’ve lived in Inglewood a long time, sent my kids to public school here. Dick Floyd‘s an empty suit.“
Sniping aside, the ethnic dynamic at work in this race is interesting and merits some scrutiny. The campaign scuttlebutt is that Floyd entered the race mostly because he believed Assemblyman Carl Washington was going to run; Floyd, the story goes, figured Vincent and Washington would split the black vote and he would win with what was left over. It was to be yet another chapter of tit for tat, which began back in ’92 when Juanita Millender McDonald (now a congresswoman) beat the incumbent Floyd in the 55th Assembly District after reapportionment. Four years later Floyd got some payback when he re-entered politics and ran in the 55th again against two black candidates, McDonald‘s son Keith McDonald and Carl Robinson, and won when those two split the critical black vote. Sources say Floyd was hoping history would repeat itself this time out, but it was not to be; Washington may have considered running, but the political powers that be firmly told him no. (According to Floyd, Vincent ”scared off“ any potential candidates by immediately sinking $200,000 into the race.) Whether that affected Floyd’s campaign strategy is unknown, but at least one black constituent in the 25th reported getting some Floyd mailers that bore no photos of him, which he thought curious. ”Oh,“ he said with some surprise upon learning that Floyd was white. ”I was wondering, but I couldn‘t tell.“
That’s not inherently a bad thing, but one has to wonder if the irascible Floyd really intended to run so low-profile a campaign. The lack of a mug shot might speak less to modesty than to a larger lack of support: Floyd himself says he hasn‘t garnered a single endorsement from an elected official. Vincent, incredibly and somewhat historically, has the blessing of every Democrat in the Assembly, not to mention the Latino Caucus, three county supervisors, black-pol kingmaker and queen bee Maxine Waters and every mayor of every city in the 25th state Senate District. Floyd says he prefers being endorsed ”by the people“ and not feeling beholden to anyone or any special interests. ”I never use political endorsements,“ he says contemptuously. ”If some mayor of some stupid little city endorses me, big deal! It doesn’t mean anything. I look out for kids, for working people, for nonworking people, senior citizens. I represent the humane vote more than anything else.“ Vincent, of course, says this is all false bravado, a thin cover for a campaign that amounts to a ”great big joke“ and a clear reflection of Floyd‘s utter lack of support among not only his Sacramento colleagues, but among locals in the very district he’s seeking to represent. In another measure of support, Vincent has raised considerably more money than Floyd — $600,000 to $379,000 so far. And as his 14-year tenure as Inglewood mayor demonstrated, Vincent knows how to win.
All of which may prove only that Vincent has more finesse than his opponent, who is famous for rubbing people the wrong way and equally famous for not caring about it. Floyd once cursed out a reporter who criticized him for tossing an empty paper cup into the bushes outside the state capitol; his conversation is laced with epithets like ”son of a bitch,“ and he doesn‘t hesitate to characterize Vincent as a ”walking felon.“ Yet the crusty Korean War vet did garner some positive press in ’99 for being the dramatic deciding vote in a piece of anti-gun legislation authored by Wally Knox. Floyd had always abstained from voting on such bills, but in the wake of the Columbine High shootings he stood up and confessed his change of heart to the entire Assembly. ”For over 20 years around here, I never spoke one time on any issue relating to guns,“ he said. But he said the Columbine shootings brought back vivid memories of the war and the smell of death, and the assemblyman concluded that, ”I am willing to not only vote for everything, I‘ll co-author every gun bill that comes along.“
Vincent, for his part, stood against the bill and incurred the wrath of some folks in his district, including Inglewood’s Coalition for Drug & Violence Prevention and Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope. But Floyd‘s new attitude is in sharp contrast to the one he had in 1998, when he refused to vote on a bill banning assault weapons because its author, Don Perata, failed to support a pet Floyd bill. Floyd gleefully and rather unfortunately described the move as ”payback time.“ Vincent, meanwhile, grew infamous in 1998 for taking the lead in trying to repeal California’s sweeping anti-smoking laws that banned smoking in bars and gaming clubs.
If both men lack moral backbone, Vincent has at least been consistent over the years in trying to build bridges with Latinos. As Inglewood mayor, he helped Jose Fernandez win a City Council seat, the first Latino in the city‘s history to do so; he also instituted a Cinco de Mayo celebration and a yearly Hispanic Fiesta. Modest efforts, but ultimately more than black officials in cities such as Compton and Lynwood, which struggle with grave black-Latino tensions, have done. As assemblyman, Vincent created a Community Development Financial Institution in Inglewood, a sort of credit union for small businesses that allows them to make loans from a shared pot of funds. He’s even made some inroads into organized labor, traditionally Floyd‘s biggest base of support — his extensive endorsement list includes several local chapters of the SEIU, as well as a coalition of its retirees.
But Floyd dismisses Vincent and his accomplishments — and he uses that term loosely — as too parochial. ”He’s still voting for Inglewood, and that‘s marvelous,“ says Floyd caustically. ”But when you come to the Legislature, you’ve got to vote for more than that. You‘re voting for a lot more people than what’s in a city. I got no time for that kind of thinking.“ Vincent says he has no time for Floyd, and doubts that the denizens of the 25th will either. He does promise that people who haven‘t seen Floyd’s face yet will be seeing it soon. ”He sends me mailers,“ Vincent notes dryly, ”but it would be hard to send him one.“ Here‘s hoping both candidates put their best faces forward.