In Hahn-Richardson Race, a Black Congressional Seat Is at Stake

Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times, October 30, 2012

Willie D. Smith broke into a wide grin when he spotted Rep. Laura Richardson campaigning in his Carson neighborhood one recent Saturday.

“This is so cool!” Smith, 43, exclaimed as he greeted the congresswoman, who was walking door-to-door along a well-tended stretch of Gladwick Street. “I’m telling my people to vote for you.”

That’s the kind of response Richardson is counting on in her tough reelection battle with a fellow Democrat, Rep. Janice Hahn of San Pedro. The two congresswomen are vying for the same seat in the wake of last year’s redistricting and new primary election rules that allowed members of the same party to advance to November.

The battle for the largely minority, working-class district has implications for California’s African Americans, who will see their numbers in Congress diminish if Hahn, who is white, defeats Richardson next week.

“I don’t think there is anybody in the [Congressional Black Caucus] who is anti-Janice Hahn,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), chair of the caucus, whose members all have endorsed Richardson. “Everybody likes her, and I like her as well, but we are never going to say that it’s OK that we lose a seat at this point in our history,” when issues of racial equality are not resolved, Cleaver said.

The largely coastal South Bay district that Hahn had won in a special election was sliced away in the remapping, leaving her home in new territory that a coalition of African American leaders had expected would elect a black representative. Hahn’s main alternative was to challenge a more seasoned Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), who ended up with much of her old district. She chose to stay put, and Richardson, seeing that more than half of her own turf wound up in the new district, decided to run against Hahn.

Richardson, 50, has had an uphill climb ever since. She was fined and reprimanded earlier this year after a House Ethics Committee investigation determined she had improperly pressured her congressional staff to do campaign work. {snip}

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The California Democratic Party endorsed Hahn, who also cut into a chunk of Richardson’s traditional labor backing. {snip}

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{snip} Latinos make up 68% of the population and 46% of the registration. The rest of the population is 17% black, 7% white and 5.5% Asian, according to the California Target Book, which tracks political contests.

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The issue of race remains close to the surface of this contest, and many of the area’s black leaders have chosen sides. Richardson backers include the region’s two other African American House members, Democratic Reps. Karen Bass and Maxine Waters, plus former L.A. Councilman Robert Farrell, L.A. Councilman Bernard C. Parks, Assembly members Steven Bradford, Mike Davis and Holly Mitchell and several other elected city and school board officials.

Among those in Hahn’s corner are Democratic activist Jimmy Woods Gray, “Sweet” Alice Harris of Parents of Watts, the Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray, Assemblyman Isadore Hall (D-Compton) and Darren Parker, head of the state party’s African American Caucus.

Compton Community College District Board President Deborah LeBlanc, mingling one recent evening with other supporters at Hahn’s San Pedro campaign headquarters, said qualilty representation trumps race.

“I’ve had to take a lot of flak” from other blacks upset with her choice, LeBlanc said. But Hahn, she added, “transcends racial lines.”

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