HUNTINGTON PARK — Luis Hernandez spent 70% more than any other candidate in last April's City Council election as he and Raul Perez became the first Latinos to be elected to office in this overwhelmingly Latino city.
Campaign disclosure statements show that Hernandez spent $29,219, which he used to plaster the city with signs and send out various mailers, among other things.
Hernandez, who grew up in and around Huntington Park, returned to the Los Angeles area two years ago after working as a financial analyst for a New York firm. He moved back to the Huntington Park area last year.
"Coming back into the community and people not knowing me politically, I needed to get my name out there," Hernandez, 30, said last week. "The campaign's focus was to bombard (voters) with mail, (precinct) walking and lot of signs. The objective was to have them recognize the name Luis Hernandez."
Hernandez, who has been fined more than $2,000 for turning in his disclosure statements late, received most of his contributions from businessmen, professionals and companies in Huntington Park and surrounding cities, the statements indicate.
Hernandez finished third in the balloting for three council seats, edging out former Councilman Jim Roberts by 27 votes. Perez received the most votes, followed by veteran Councilman William P. Cunningham.
Roberts spent $17,185 on his campaign, while Cunningham spent $15,058 and Perez $8,014, according to the statements. A fifth candidate, Alan Kartsman, reported spending less than $1,000.
Roberts, who had been on the City Council since 1970, said that Hernandez was forced to be a big spender because he did not have a well-established record of community service.
"I think he was trying to buy his way into office," Roberts said. "Whether or not that made a difference, I don't know."
Cunningham called the spending the key to Hernandez's victory. "I would think if he hadn't have spent that kind of money he wouldn't have gotten elected," Cunningham said.
Hernandez did not quibble with that assessment, noting his slim margin of victory.
Before the April election, Latino challengers had always been outspent by the incumbents. Hernandez reported raising $24,595, a figure that also outpaced the other candidates. Local political observers theorized that Hernandez was able to raise that much because he was more aggressive than past candidates in pursuing funds. The issue of Latino representation on the council and the city's poor financial condition probably gave his campaign a boost as well, the observers said.
Hernandez had $6,711 in unpaid bills and $1,436 in unspent funds, according to his statements. The councilman said he plans to hold fund-raisers to pay off his debts.
During the campaign, Hernandez primarily attacked council incumbents for the city's recent financial problems, which resulted in layoffs of 25 employees last October.
"The voice of the people was heard this election because they were fed up and it was time for a change," Hernandez said. "That was quite evident because two Hispanics were elected this time around."
Latino candidates had run and been defeated in every council election since 1970. But the incumbents' margin of victory diminished over the years as the city's percentage of Latinos increased. Perez, who had run unsuccessfully for the council five times, missed being elected in 1988 by 21 votes.
The city of about 59,000 is now more than 90% Latino, according to projections based on the 1980 U.S. Census.
Perez said he was able to win a seat without spending a lot of money because he was well known from past elections. He also credited a strong--and inexpensive--absentee voter drive for his victory.
"I think I cashed in on a lot of previous elections," said Perez, who also emphasized the issue of Latino representation during his campaign.
This year, the chances of both Latino candidates were improved considerably when former Councilman Herbert A. Hennes Jr. decided for personal reasons not to seek reelection, leaving just two incumbents on the ballot for three seats.
In the wake of his victory, Hernandez has suffered a lot of political embarrassment because of the way he has handled campaign finances.
City Clerk Marilyn A. Boyette fined Hernandez $2,110 for turning in campaign disclosure statements as many as 117 days late. He did not turn in any statements until after the election.
The campaign statements are required by state law to enable voters to find out who is backing a candidate. Hernandez said he did not turn in his statements because he wanted to protect his contributors from retaliation by city officials.
Mayor Thomas E. Jackson called Hernandez's suggestion "nonsense."
"He's got to have some excuse," Jackson said. "Any guy who wants to run for the City Council has to play by the same rules everyone else has. People have a right to know who your supporters are."