No sharp differences on local issues surfaced at an Echo Park forum for four candidates hoping to fill the now-vacant 1st District seat on the Los Angeles City Council.
The candidates in the special election Feb. 3--Larry Gonzalez, Gloria Molina, Paul Moore and Leland Wong--presented conflicting positions only on their supposed independence from or connections to political organizations and their acceptance or refusal of campaign contributions from builders.
Responding to questions from the audience, both Moore, a Chinatown-based businessman, and Wong, a community planner, stressed their lack of political alliances and of contributions from developers.
Moore won one of the biggest rounds of applause during the two-hour session at Elysian Heights Elementary School Saturday when he said: "Outside interests have no place in this district." That appealed to Echo Park residents, who feel that their neighborhood has been split between two council districts in the recent redistricting to satisfy the political needs of incumbents.
'Machine Politics' Blamed
In another popular statement Saturday, Wong blamed that split on "machine politics" and urged the audience to note that Molina, an assemblywoman since 1982, and Gonzalez, a school board member since 1983, have endorsements from City Council incumbents.
Gonzalez is supported by Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores and Councilman Richard Alatorre, who was one of the architects of the redistricting plan and thus is unpopular among some Echo Park community groups. Molina, an Alatorre foe in the past, made a special effort to point out that Alatorre opposes her election in the 1st District. She has been endorsed by Councilwomen Pat Russell and Joy Picus, and Councilmen Joel Wachs and Marvin Braude.
Gonzalez said he would "continue to seek out the support and advice" of various public officials, but that he would be independent of any politician.
Gonzalez and Molina said they have accepted contributions from builders but that their past voting records show that they are not beholden to the construction industry.
Gonzalez inadvertently provoked laughter when he noted that individual contributions are limited to $500 and said: "Five hundred dollars will not buy my vote." Cynical audience members remarked: "How much would?" Gonzalez, seeming to realize his mistake, simply smiled.
Moore took a shot at both Gonzalez and Molina and raised the issue of carpetbagging when he said that he wanted to welcome the two to the district. Both Gonzalez and Molina had to move recently so that they would live within the new boundaries of the 1st District. Gonzalez moved only a few blocks because his Highland Park home was barely outside the district; Molina moved to Chinatown, an area that falls within both her current 56th Assembly District and the 1st Council District.
Molina and Gonzalez tried to deflect criticism about their moves by stressing their deep roots in the Eastside. Both also emphasized their governmental experience.
Otherwise, the 150 people in the audience heard the four candidates agree that:
The proposed oil pipeline through Northeast Los Angeles should not be built.
Rent controls should be continued.
Echo Park has not gotten its fair share of police protection.
The Department of Water and Power should conduct an environmental impact study before continuing with its proposal to put an aluminum roof over the Elysian Reservoir.
The city should help the Echo Park library find a new home in a soon-to-be vacant fire station.
The 1st District includes parts of Echo Park, Highland Park and Mt. Washington, along with Cypress Park, Chinatown, Lincoln Heights and the Pico-Union and Temple-Beaudry areas.
The heavily Latino district was created to correct what the U.S. Justice Department lawsuit charged was under-representation of Latinos. Its current boundaries were drawn after the death of Councilman Howard Finn, whose 1st District had been in the San Fernando Valley; his death created a way to avoid a possibly bruising battle between Councilmen Mike Woo and John Ferraro, who otherwise would have been squeezed into one district.
If no candidate wins a majority Feb. 3, a runoff will be held in April between the two top vote-getters.