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Mervyn M. Dymally, former state lieutenant governor, dies at 86

October 7, 2012 |  9:36 pm

Mervyn DymallyMervyn M. Dymally, the Trinidad-born former teacher whose groundbreaking if sometimes controversial political career spanned more than four decades and included a stint as California’s only black lieutenant governor, has died. He was 86.

Dymally, who became a leader in the Los Angeles area’s ascendant African American political establishment in the early 1960s and served in both houses of the state Legislature and in Congress, died Sunday in Los Angeles, his family announced. Jasmyne Cannick, who served as Dymally's press secretary during his time in office, said he died after a period of declining health.

Dymally’s political longevity and ability to return time and again to public office had him winning elections well into what many people see as their retirement years. His latest comeback, at age 76, was perhaps his most dramatic. In 2002, dissatisfied with the potential candidates for the Compton-area Assembly seat he first won in 1962 and dismayed at the dropping numbers of blacks in the Legislature, Dymally jumped into the race himself and won.

The controversies that surrounded him with some regularity over the years could never permanently derail his political career -- several corruption investigations all ended without charges ever being filed. Dymally always said the probes were baseless and politically motivated.

The end came instead at the hands of a rival nearly 30 years his junior: Termed out of the Assembly in 2008, Dymally, then 82, lost a grueling Democratic primary election for a state Senate seat to Rod Wright.

Dymally never really left politics, though. He continued to advise others from the sidelines and to lead a health institute at the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in South Los Angeles. The university’s nursing school bears his name.

During his career, Dymally worked to improve education and access to healthcare for his largely working-class, minority constituents. In Congress, he was chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and served on the Foreign Affairs Committee. He focused on issues involving U.S. relations with African nations and strongly supported sanctions against South Africa and other international human rights issues.

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-- Jean Merl

Photo: Mervyn Dymally. Credit: Mervyn Dymally

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