The green and white sign above Lucille Roybal Allard's election headquarters blends right in with the neighboring merchants in the East Los Angeles mini-mall. Like the rest, her sign has more the look of a long-established family business than the usual hurried lettering job of a temporary political campaign.
The tie-in to roots is perhaps fitting. Allard, 45, is the eldest daughter of Rep. Ed Roybal (D-Los Angeles), who has held local and national office since 1949. Allard grew up answering campaign phones and licking stamps as Roybal ran for the Los Angeles City Council and then when he went to Congress in 1962. He has been reelected ever since.
Always in the background in the past, Allard is now seeking to follow her father into the political limelight as she runs for office in the Eastside's 56th Assembly District seat left vacant in February when former representative Gloria Molina won a seat on the Los Angeles City Council.
The congressman's daughter's campaign, conducted with the blessing of her popular, well-connected father and of Molina, would typically be expected to run like clockwork. The outcome of a Roybal running for office on the Eastside should be as predictable "as a Kennedy running for Congress," one Roybal Allard loyalist said.
Except that: One of the Kennedys lost a congressional race last year; political losses were recorded by children of state Treasurer Jesse Unruh and entertainer Bob Hope, and the son of influential Assemblywoman Maxine Waters lost a local Assembly race last year after he spent about $800,000 trying to win it.
The measuring sticks of money and political influence still place the odds in Allard's favor in the special election May 12. But nine challengers, including former state Sen. Alex Garcia, point to the failed candidacies in the other families as evidence that "voters reject being told that a leader has already been chosen for them," Garcia said.
Allard and her supporters deny that they are telling the voters of the largely Latino, working-class area what to do. Rather, she presents herself as the candidate of consensus, the only one with a broad base of support among Latino elected officials. That support was based largely on hopes that the Allard candidacy would act as a salve to heal the wounds suffered in earlier campaigns, most recently Molina's City Council race.
When Molina left the Assembly to join the City Council, yet another vacancy was created in an area that has been bombarded with a series of elections in the last few years.
Since 1982, voters in various parts of the Eastside have gone to the polls every year in every kind of race, from the usual national and state elections to a council recall and special elections. The many elections, some pitting one Latino Democrat against another, have been divisive and, in some cases, downright mean.
Molina's victory over school board member Larry Gonzalez in February splintered once again Latino political loyalties and led to both sides spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now, "everybody's burned out," one political activist said. So now the big names in Eastside politics--Councilman Richard Alatorre, state Sen. Art Torres, Molina, her recent rival Gonzalez and Roybal--have united behind one candidate, Allard.
Not all believe that the "agreement" is healthy, one Latina activist said. There has been some grumbling behind closed doors as to whether the consensus amounted to what some have called "one-party rule," she said.
The united front that formed behind Allard's candidacy was a "peace offering," Alatorre said a few months ago. "To carry on this insane fight doesn't make sense."
"It may be a marriage of convenience," Roybal conceded in a recent interview. "But that is part of politics. The result I believe is to better serve the people of the area."
The area of the 56th Assembly District faces a host of inner-city problems. It includes the Civic Center, part of Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Boyle Heights, unincorporated East Los Angeles, and the cities of Commerce, Vernon, Maywood and Bell Gardens. Within the district are housing projects and Skid Row, where concrete serves as the daily mattress for hundreds of the down and out and sick from all over the country.
Farther east, the blue-collar area is home to many longtime and new Latino residents, with a few spots of thriving small commerce--for example, along Whittier Boulevard and Boyle and Brooklyn avenues.
Agreement on Issues
In a district where the problems are so obvious, the candidates are not far apart on the issues. All support education and crime-fighting programs and oppose locating a proposed prison in the district.
The district is 77% Democratic with historically low voter turnouts at the polls. If no one candidate gets a majority vote May 12, a runoff will be held July 7 between the top finishers from each party. But since the area is overwhelmingly Democratic, the Democratic win May 12 is largely considered tantamount to final victory in the runoff.