Under the Radar: Foe Hopes to Profit From Richardson’s Defaults

Posted October 6, 2008 at 6:11pm

College professor Peter Mathews had his hat handed to him by Rep. Laura Richardson (Calif.) in the 37th district Democratic primary in June. But he’s back for more.

[IMGCAP(1)]Mathews, a frequent candidate in the midst of his third Congressional bid, is running as a write-in in the Nov. 4 general election, hoping that Richardson’s numerous financial problems will propel him to an unlikely victory over the freshman incumbent. Mathews lost to Richardson in the primary by 58 points.

“Actually, I’m feeling quite good about it,” Mathews said during a telephone interview Monday. “Of course, Laura’s situation is making it more conducive to pull this off.”

The 37th district, anchored by the Southern California city of Long Beach, is so Democratic that the Republicans didn’t even field a candidate this year.

Even with the bad press Richardson has garnered for defaulting on mortgage payments for multiple homes and failing to pay for repairs on an automobile she owned, she is still a shoo-in for re-election.

Richardson, then a state Assemblywoman, first won the 37th district seat in an August 2007 special election to replace the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D). Richardson beat state Sen. Jenny Oropeza (D) by 6 points in a June special open primary and cruised to victory over her GOP opponent in the special general election two months later.

It was about two weeks before she drubbed Mathews in the June 3 Democratic primary, 75 percent to 17 percent, that news about Richardson’s finances surfaced. Attempts to reach the Richardson campaign on Monday were unsuccessful.

Mathews, 56, has lived in Long Beach since 1991, and has owned a home there since 1994. He is engaged and teaches political science and government at Cypress College, a two-year junior college.

He was born in India and came to the United States when he was 10, growing up in Maryland, New Jersey and New York, before finally settling in Denton, Texas, a community 30 miles north of Dallas. Mathews graduated from North Texas University.

In his younger days, Mathews modeled and picked up bit parts in a few movies and television shows, including the perennial hit “Cheers.” He is still a member of the Screen Actors Guild. This year’s June primary marked his third effort to secure the Democratic nomination in the 37th district.

Mathews acknowledges that he faces an uphill climb in his bid to defeat Richardson. But he didn’t appear to be acting when he voiced optimism that victory is achievable.

Mathews said neither local Democrats, members of the Democratic machine nor the Richardson campaign have attacked him or responded to his criticism of the Congresswoman, save for one comment by her political adviser that Mathews is a “serial campaigner.”

Mathews’ response: “The fact that she’s a serial defaulter should give the voters some pause.”

Mathews plans to spend about $50,000 on his campaign overall. He claims at least one campaign aide, Nathan Israel, who said the Mathews campaign consists of four staffers and several volunteers.

Mathews aired one television ad six times on the three major cable news channels the night of the vice presidential debates last week, and he is targeting absentee voters in portions of the 37th district. He touts a few interesting endorsements, including a retired Long Beach police commander, a retired Long Beach fire chief and John Kanaley, the Republican who ran in the 2007 special open primary.

“We’re not being Pollyanna-ish at all,” Mathews said. “A write-in is always a challenge.”

Still, as is typical of many long-shot Congressional candidates, Mathews sees a definite path to victory.

In particular, he points to former Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill, who in 2002 was elected to a third term as a write-in candidate.

Mathews also believes that the news reports of Richardson’s financial problems have provided him with a legitimate opening, although he acknowledges that the Congresswoman’s foibles have received little press of late.

“The support that we get from people who become aware of our campaign has been phenomenal,” Israel said. “The real uphill battle might be that Peter is not an entrenched Democrat.