Mike Hernandez, a Highland Park businessman who has raised money for several Latino politicians, is now raising money for himself--to run for a state Assembly seat against the very interests he had helped keep in office. At stake in an April 8 primary special election is the Eastside 55th Assembly District seat that was held for 13 years by Richard Alatorre, until he was elected to the Los Angeles City Council last December.
Since Alatorre left the Legislature, he has made it clear that former aide Richard Polanco, 34, is his choice as successor. Polanco also has become the "consensus" candidate of many other Latino and Democratic officials seeking to avoid bitter infighting over the seat. In addition to Alatorre, state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) and other Latino elected officials are expected to formally endorse Polanco.
Now Hernandez, president of a bonds and insurance agency, has stepped in, hoping to become the spoiler. Hernandez, who in the past has raised funds for Alatorre, Torres and others, says he already has raised more than $40,000 for his own campaign to block an easy victory for Polanco.
On his campaign staff are former top aides both to Alatorre and to Assemblywoman Gloria Molina (D-Los Angeles). Molina said she is considering endorsing Hernandez and has said that she will not support Polanco "under any circumstances." She ran against Polanco in 1982 in her Eastside district and won in a close and stinging race.
After much talk among those close to Mayor Tom Bradley that the mayor had decided to remain neutral in the race to avoid getting embroiled in any political infighting among Latino political powers, Deputy Mayor Grace Davis said Wednesday that Bradley told her he is "staying with Polanco . . . he made a commitment."
Because of his business and political fund-raising experience in the Eastside, Hernandez probably has the best chance of several candidates of bucking the political odds that still favor Polanco.
'People Know Me'
"I've been a strong supporter of Richard Alatorre and other Hispanic elected officials, I've raised money for them," Hernandez said. "Alatorre has been very popular, but I don't think that translates to Polanco. I have lived here for many years and people know me."
Polanco so far has no commitment of campaign financing from Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), the major fund-raising force behind Democrats in the lower house.
Hernandez said Brown told him that he "was taking no position on the race." Brown's chief of staff, Richard Ross, said Brown will concentrate his resources "on races where Democrats may be targeted (for defeat) by Republicans." Such is "not the case" in the 55th District, which has a 69% Democratic voter registration, Ross said.
However, Ross will be Polanco's campaign manager. Ross said he will work for Polanco for no payment "on my own time."
"I will be providing Polanco with everything I would usually charge a fee for, that means targeting voters, doing direct mail," he said.
'Good Enough for Me'
Ross said he has come to know Polanco well only in the last year. But his longtime friends, Alatorre and United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez, "thought so highly of Polanco, that was good enough for me."
If Hernandez continues to push his candidacy, it could produce a hard-fought race. Hernandez partisans have remarked that Polanco's home lies outside the district in Duarte (although Polanco said he recently rented a home in Highland Park with an option to buy); Polanco supporters have suggested that the Hernandez family bail bond business could become a topic of discussion during the campaign.
It will be a relatively short campaign for the race to fill Alatorre's unexpired term until the end of the year. The eight who have filed an intention to run have until Feb. 24 to submit petitions and pay fees that will qualify them for the April primary ballot.
If any one candidate fails in that election to receive 50% plus one vote, a runoff between the top vote-getters by political party will be held in June. Candidates for the regular two-year term in the 55th District will also be listed on the June ballot.