Gov. George Deukmejian on Friday set April 8 as the primary election date and June 3 as the runoff date for East Los Angeles voters to choose the successor to former Assemblyman Richard Alatorre, signaling the start of what could be a battle for political power among Latino politicians.
Alatorre, who represented the 55th Assembly District for 13 years, was elected to the Los Angeles City Council on Dec. 10 in a special election to replace former Councilman Arthur K. Snyder, who resigned.
Those expected to run to succeed Alatorre include his aide Richard Polanco and Los Angeles school board member Larry Gonzalez, both Democrats. Polanco, a longtime associate of Alatorre, has said he is "definitely" running; Gonzalez, who has been encouraged to run by state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblywoman Gloria Molina (D-Los Angeles), said he is "seriously considering" it. Raul Ruiz, a member of the Mexican-American Political Assn. and once a minor party candidate who ran against Alatorre for the Assembly, is also considering running, according to MAPA associates.
Under the state elections code, if no candidate receives a majority vote in April, the Democrat with the most votes would proceed to the runoff--to be held on the same day as the statewide primary. That candidate would then face the Republican who receives the most primary votes, as well as any minor party candidates.
If Gonzalez and Polanco both run, the race to replace Alatorre could be an encore to a 1982 Eastside Assembly election in which Polanco was pitted against Molina, a former aide to Torres. In a race that split Latino loyalties, Alatorre endorsed Polanco and Torres backed Molina, who won.
Alatorre said last month that the aim this time will be to head off any rifts in Latino Democratic ranks before the vote. "Hopefully, we can consolidate our effort and come up with the best and most qualified candidate," he said. In the meantime, the potential candidates Friday were tight-lipped about any plans for the April election.
No Republicans have yet expressed an interest in representing the district, which includes Lincoln Heights, El Sereno, Highland Park, Mt. Washington and part of Pasadena. It is heavily Latino and about 70% Democratic. The primary vote was set in April in compliance with the state elections code requirement that both primary and runoff, if needed, take place no later than six months after the Assembly seat is vacated, said Kevin Brett, a Deukmejian spokesman. As for the possible runoff, the governor "wanted to consolidate the general special election with the June 3 state primary because it was cost effective," Brett added.
The winner of the special election will serve the rest of Alatorre's unexpired term, until Dec. 1, said Caren Daniels-Meade, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office. If the winner of the special election also wants to serve the next two-year Assembly term, he or she must also run in the June 3 state primary and appear on the ballot as a candidate for that race as well.