School board member Larry Gonzalez ended speculation Monday and filed to run for the Los Angeles City Council, setting up what promises to be a highly charged race between Gonzalez and an already declared candidate, Assemblywoman Gloria Molina.
Gonzalez, who filed his papers with the city clerk's office just before deadline Monday, said he will outline his campaign themes at a press conference Wednesday. But in a few words with reporters Monday, he indicated that he will seek to blunt criticism that he is a tool of the Eastside's long-established political powers, Sen. Art Torres and Councilman Richard Alatorre.
"I have truly been independent," Gonzalez said in response to questions. "My conscience has been what leads me."
The district at stake was created by the council this year to correct what the U.S. Justice Department said was under-representation of Latinos on the council. It includes Chinatown, Cypress Park, Echo Park, Lincoln Heights, parts of Highland Park and Mount Washington and the Pico-Union and Temple-Beaudry areas. The population is 69% Latino and 14% Asian, with the rest Anglo and black.
Gonzalez, elected to represent the Eastside on the Los Angeles school board in 1983, is up for reelection to the school board in next April's primary election. Bernard J. Barrett, chief of the city's elections division, said Gonzalez, can legally run for both the council special election, scheduled for Feb. 3, and the school board election in April.
The race between Gonzalez and Molina once again promises to be a fight of those supported by veterans Torres and Alatorre versus determined challengers who have steadily gained support in recent elections.
This tug of war was most recently played out in an Assembly race earlier this year in which Alatorre and Torres backed Richard Polanco for an Assembly seat and Molina and Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Los Angeles) supported a political unknown, Mike Hernandez. Although Polanco had a long line of endorsements and heavy financial support, he just eked out a victory in his primary battle against Hernandez.
In the coming council race, Molina is in a much stronger position than Hernandez was. She has been an elected official since 1982 and has gained momentum in the past few months as a leader among community activists fighting a proposal to build a state prison on the Eastside, in Molina's Assembly district.
Molina seized the issue and fought Gov. George Deukmejian and eventually her own Democratic colleagues in the Assembly in opposing the prison. She has received the endorsement of Roybal and is also expected to attract support from citywide women's groups.
Gonzalez also has been seen as a major "comer" among Latino politicians. A longtime aide to Torres, as a school board member he has fought to ease overcrowded classrooms, a particular problem in Eastside schools, and worked to break up school gangs.
In addition to the expected endorsements of Alatorre and Torres, activists such as Leticia Quezada, Los Angeles Community College trustee, have said they will endorse Gonzalez, a move that Gonzalez backers hope will help offset the women's support that Molina will probably attract.
Both Gonzalez and Molina had to move recently so that they would live within the boundaries of the new City Council 1st District. Gonzalez moved only a few blocks because his Highland Park home was just barely outside the district; Molina moved to Chinatown, an area that falls within both her current Assembly district and the 1st Council District.