A new political season opened Thursday as Assemblywoman Gloria Molina, backed by significant political support, announced that she will run for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council representing a newly created, largely Latino district.
The district north of downtown includes Chinatown, Cypress Park, Echo Park, Highland Park, Lincoln Heights and the Pico-Union and Temple-Beaudry areas. Its population is 69% Latino, 14% Asian and 2% black, with the rest Anglo. The district was created by the council this year to correct boundaries that a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit charged left Latinos under-represented in city government.
A special election to fill the seat will be held Feb. 3. While the new district likely ensures a new Latino representative on the council, the race for it is also likely to ensure the reopening of old political wounds in the Latino community.
That is because Molina, an Assembly representative since 1982, could be challenged by Los Angeles school board member Larry Gonzalez. According to several Latino political activists, Gonzalez is planning to run and already has lined up the support of his former boss, state Sen. Art Torres, and Councilman Richard Alatorre, who, like Molina, spent much of his political career in the Legislature. Gonzalez and Torres refused comment Thursday. School board spokesman Bill Rivera said Gonzalez told him Thursday that he has not made up his mind and "won't until Monday." Alatorre, while directly denying that he would oppose Molina, said he wanted to know "who else is running." Those close to Alatorre said he is already committed to Gonzalez and is making phone calls on Gonzalez's behalf.
Relations between Molina and Alatorre have been strained ever since he backed another candidate, Richard Polanco, against her when she ran for the Assembly in 1982. She narrowly won that race. Earlier this year, Molina endorsed and gave a major boost to the candidacy of a then-unknown candidate, Mike Hernandez, who was running against Polanco for another Assembly seat. Polanco won that seat, but only after his backers--Alatorre and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown--poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race.
Brown's displeasure with Molina, some suggested, influenced his decision this year to drop opposition to a state prison on the Eastside, in Molina's district. Molina since then has led a grass-roots fight against the prison, and many of her allies in that fight showed up at her press conference Thursday.
At the Lincoln Heights press conference, Molina was flanked by Council President Pat Russell, council members Marvin Braude and Joel Wachs, and Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Los Angeles), the senior legislator among Latino elected officials. Molina was also joined by Anne Finn, wife of the late Councilman Howard Finn, and a letter of endorsement was read from Councilwoman Joy Picus.
Those endorsing Molina repeatedly applauded her "strong independence," a thinly veiled jab at Alatorre, who has strong ties to Assembly Speaker Brown. One supporter yelled out, "We don't want Willie Brown here!"
Alatorre, the mastermind behind the controversial redistricting process, is seen as a potent new force in city politics, and the council members standing behind Molina Thursday, particularly Russell, could gain an ally in Molina, who is expected to challenge Alatorre and possibly prevent the formation of a strong Alatorre coalition in the council. Gonzalez, on the other hand, would probably work closely with Alatorre.
Meanwhile, two candidates have filed papers with the city clerk's office indicating that they may challenge Russell in next April's regularly scheduled election.
Ruth Galanter, a former regional coastal commissioner, and Salvatore Grammatico filed papers this week to "solicit and raise funds" for a possible council bid. The official filing period for the April election does not open until Jan. 14, according to the city clerk's elections division.
If Galanter runs, Russell could face one of the more serious challenges of her political career. Russell has represented the 6th Council District, which includes Venice, Playa del Rey and Westchester, since 1970. She has served as council president since July, 1983. Galanter, who was Southern California director of the League of Conservation Voters, had chaired the South Coast Regional Coastal Commission.
In the 10th Council District in Southwest Los Angeles, a dozen people have filed papers to raise campaign funds for the seat vacated when David Cunningham resigned. They include school board President Rita Walters and former state Sen. Nate Holden.
Times staff writer Victor Merina contributed to this story.