Rep. Maxine Waters (D)
California 35th District
In the years just after World War II, Los Angeles was the fastest-growing metropolitan area in America. LAX, today the nation’s third-busiest airport, with eight central terminals, was then a small airfield amid open country. The mile-square grids east, north, and south of the airport were just filling up with rapidly multiplying subdivisions. Also north of the airport were the wetlands along Ballona Creek, where Howard Hughes took his Spruce Goose, the largest airplane ever built, up for its one and only flight. The rapidly growing suburb of Inglewood, just east of the airport around the Hollywood Park racetrack, was filling up with the young families of people who had moved to Los Angeles during the war—workers in the giant aircraft factories or in the small factories that every day were making California less dependent on goods from back East. In Hawthorne, home of a big Northrop Grumman plant, future celebrities were growing up—Sonny Bono and the Beach Boys. Gardena, east of Hawthorne, was known for its legal poker clubs and its Japanese-American residents, back from the wartime internment camps.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
East of Gardena is the part of Los Angeles called South Central or, more recently, South Los Angeles, after the City Council in 2003 officially renamed the community to rid it of the stigma of gang wars and race riots. In the days of residential segregation, much of this area was the home of Los Angeles’s black community, its numbers greatly expanded by migration from the South during and after the war. In the Central Avenue entertainment district were clubs and theaters hosting Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Billy Eckstine, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker. Later, it was the epicenter of L.A.’s two postwar riots, in the Watts district of Los Angeles in 1965 and at the corner of Florence and Normandie in 1992. In the last 20 years, Latinos have been buying houses here, which are among the cheapest in the metropolitan area—only five L.A. zip codes have median prices below $200,000—and new businesses have been cropping up in garages and small factories.
The 35th Congressional District of California today is made up of all these areas, with a landscape and population very different from 60 years ago. At its west and east ends are two of the Los Angeles area’s great transportation facilities. One is LAX and the cluster of hotels and office buildings all around (LAX’s swooping arches, intended in 1961 to symbolize the jet era, are now a historic landmark). The other is the Alameda Corridor, the 20-mile express rail line connecting the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach with rail distribution points near downtown Los Angeles. Once mostly white working class and middle class, the district’s population in 2007 was 30% African-American and 53% Hispanic. Since the 1992 riot, local businesses have revived, though the district still suffers high crime rates and plenty of mistrust of local police. Politically, this is an overwhelmingly Democratic district.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D)
Elected: 1990, 10th term.
Born: Aug. 15, 1938, St. Louis, MO .
Home: Los Angeles.
Education: CA State L.A., B.A. 1970.
Family: Married (Sidney Williams); 2 children.
Elected office: CA Assembly, 1976–90.
Professional Career: Head Start teacher, 1966; Dpty., City Councilman David Cunningham, 1973–76.
The congresswoman from the 35th District is Maxine Waters, a Democrat first elected in 1990. She grew up in St. Louis, one of 13 children. She has said, “I know all about welfare. I remember the social workers peeking in the refrigerator and under the beds.” She moved to California in 1961, worked in a garment factory, and raised two children. Waters got a sociology degree at California State University in Los Angeles and became an assistant Head Start teacher after the Watts riot of 1965. She likes to call herself “The Organizer” and has shown the capacity to draw big supportive crowds to her protests over the years. From 1973 to 1976, she worked on the staff of a Los Angeles city councilman. In 1976, she won a seat in the California Assembly, where she helped pass legislation divesting state pension funds from South Africa, setting up a child-abuse-prevention training program, and prohibiting police strip searches for nonviolent offenses. When Democratic Rep. Augustus Hawkins retired in 1990 after 28 years in the U.S. House, Waters was the obvious choice for the seat and won it easily. Her husband, a former professional football player and Mercedes Benz salesman, became President Clinton’s ambassador to the Bahamas.
|Maxine Waters (D)||150,778||(83%)||($831,984)|
|Ted Hayes (R)||24,169||(13%)||($13,282)|
|Herb Peters (Lib)||7,632||(4%)|
|Maxine Waters (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (84%), 2004 (81%), 2002 (78%), 2000 (87%), 1998 (89%), 1996 (86%), 1994 (78%), 1992 (83%), 1990 (79%)
Having grown up in poverty and lived under segregation laws, Waters believes with fervor in federal aid for the poor and for racial preferences to help blacks overcome years of slavery, segregation, and discrimination. She has favored drastic reductions in defense spending in favor of domestic spending. She was one of six members who voted against supporting the Gulf War in 1991, asking how urban gang members could be expected to stop fighting when America’s own leaders were waging battles. She has been a staunch opponent of the Iraq war. In the summer of 2006, she campaigned in Connecticut for Ned Lamont in his successful primary challenge to then-Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman. “I believe this is the most significant election of all the Democrats that are running,” she said. In 2007, she lobbied her colleagues against the Iraq supplemental funding bill with a timetable for withdrawal supported by the Democratic leadership. And she played a leading role with the Out of Iraq Caucus. She brings to her work a fury that is almost palpable, and an insistence that she will assert herself regardless of protocol. Her anger is a political weapon she uses shrewdly to get both publicity and results. ‘‘I don’t have time to be polite,’’ Waters says.
She came to Washington shortly before the 1992 race riots in L.A., which occasioned her best and worst moments. She flew home immediately and roused the Department of Water and Power to restore water to the riot area, and she was effective in gaining provisions to the post-riot emergency act that were eventually signed into law. But she also suggested rioters were morally justified and claimed ominously, ‘‘Los Angeles is under siege….The violence could spill over to many other cities in this country.’’
Waters isn’t afraid to step on toes in pursuit of her legislative or political agenda. She has pushed for federal loan guarantees to cities for economic and infrastructure development. In a rare legislative success in the Republican-controlled House, Waters sponsored an amendment to triple spending for the erasure of the debts of poor nations, mostly in Africa. Many Republicans agreed, and it passed 216-211. She has sponsored bills to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, and charges that the war on drugs has created “apartheid.” In 2006, she sponsored a bill to provide routine HIV/AIDS testing of federal prison inmates, with an opt-out provision for those who objected. During the Judiciary Committee’s 1998 impeachment inquiry of President Clinton, she assailed ‘‘trumped-up charges" and accused special prosecutor Kenneth Starr of ‘‘raw, unmasked, unbridled hatred and meanness that drives this impeachment coup d’etat.’’
As a senior member of the Financial Services Committee, Waters moved aggressively in the majority once Democrats gained control of the House in 2007. She sponsored measures to overhaul discredited housing-finance programs, expand affordable-housing programs, and aid local governments to rehabilitate foreclosed homes. She harshly criticized the Federal Reserve Board and big bankers for their financing practices and the tight credit that resulted. In a sarcastic voice, she told a panel of banking executives in February 2009, “To the captains of the universe sitting here before all of us, all of my political life I have been in disagreement with the banking industry.”
But in recent years, her personal finances have become the target of watchdogs. In 2005, the liberal-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics criticized the fact that members of her family have made more than $1 million in eight years doing business with companies, candidates, and causes that she had helped. Her reply: “They do their business and I do mine.” In March 2009, news stories raised the issue of whether Waters had urged favorable treatment by federal regulators of a bank in which she and her husband had held stakes. Federal regulators told The New York Times that they were taken aback when they learned that a California congresswoman who helped set up a meeting with bankers (in 2008) had family financial ties to a bank whose chief executive asked them for up to $50 million in special bailout funds. Waters defended her actions by saying, “I have been an outspoken advocate for minority communities and businesses in California and nationally for decades.”
Waters is a force to be reckoned with in L.A. politics as well. Other politicians are eager to be included on her Progressive Connections slates of candidates that are mailed out to many thousands of black voters. Politicians pay to be included—a common California practice. (City Councilman Mike Feuer, in a contest for city attorney in 2001, paid $10,000 to be on the slate and ran even in African-American areas with Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo. But Feuer wouldn’t pay $25,000 to be on the slate for the June runoff. Delgadillo paid $35,000 and got 65% in black areas.)
For mayor in 2001, Waters strongly supported City Attorney James Hahn in his successful campaign against former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa. After Hahn won, Waters approached banker and L.A. Focus magazine owner Jheryl Busby and insisted he fire columnist Najee Ali, who had backed Villaraigosa. Busby fired Ali in July 2001. Ali sued Busby, and Busby’s attorney said Busby “told me he needs a positive relationship with Waters because of her ability to help him with his bank and other business interests.” In the March 2005 rematch between Hahn and Villaraigosa, Waters supported Villaraigosa against Hahn. As a footnote, Ali turned up at a 2006 protest meeting organized by Waters, and when she recognized him, Ali said that Waters ordered him not to speak to the media. “I remember her saying she was going to make it rough for me and that she was going to get me,” Ali told the L.A. CityBeat weekly. “I was stunned that a U.S. congresswoman would threaten me because I wanted to exercise my freedom of speech.”
Waters has been re-elected without difficulty. The biggest potential threat to her tenure is the rising Hispanic percentage in the district.