The fight for the new 1st District supervisorial seat has been frenetic. For the past nine weeks, four major candidates and five less well-known contenders have campaigned across a wide, varied swath of Los Angeles County.
The first round ends with a Jan. 22 election. If none of the nine candidates receives a simple majority of the vote, as is generally expected, the two top finishers face a Feb. 19 runoff.
The election is expected to produce the county's first Latino supervisor in a century. State Sens. Charles Calderon and Art Torres, former county aide Sarah Flores and Los Angeles City Councilwoman Gloria Molina are widely considered the major contenders. The newly redrawn district--created by federal court order after a legal challenge to the old boundaries--contains 1.8 million residents, 70% of them Latino, and the would-be supervisors have been struggling to reach as many of them as possible.
Without television advertising, in-depth polls and other tools of modern politicking readily available for many reasons, the candidates have been forced to rely on more basic tactics: direct mail, group endorsements and public appearances at any place where voters or the media might gather. What has emerged is a rather old-fashioned grass-roots campaign, in which barbershop meetings and neighborhood contacts replace market research and political action committees as major campaign elements.
Here are some snapshots taken from a single routine campaign day last week:
People are just starting to make up their minds. The only poll that counts is on Jan. 22.
--State Sen. Charles Calderon at a private address in Whittier.
Chuck Calderon cuts a solitary figure, sitting at the dinette in his empty home, dressed in khakis and shirt sleeves and doing the thing candidates hate most: Dialing for dollars.
Through the kitchen window, one can hear the outdoor spa gurgling, affording the only sound in this hillside Whittier neighborhood, where most other residents have already left for work.
Calderon wishes for one brief moment that he, too, could head to some normal job in some normal office. Instead, he has just called a high school friend, who has given him names of six other businessmen to contact for contributions.
On this morning, the candidate is excited, upbeat, maybe because he has raised $10,000 since 9 a.m. and people are saying kind things to him. Or maybe it's the coffee, which he chug-a-lugs from a mug reading "I my Dad."
"Chris, how you doin', this is Chuck Calderon! Well I'm knee-deep in this race, up to my neck, ha! ha! Did you go to Sacramento for the festivities? You're through with those days huh? Mmm hmm. Well, I'm raising dollars. I'm cold-calling. I'm calling everyone I've ever met in my life. Do you have any ideas?"
Like other candidates, if Calderon gets a free hour, he calls--from his car, from his office, from his home.
"This is the loneliest part of the campaign and we all hate it," Calderon said. "The consultants are expert at spending money, but only we can raise it."
On each call, he manages to mention his law and order background as a former prosecutor and his endorsement from the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. Last weekend, Calderon's 100 precinct walkers reported to him that 1st District residents are, above all, sick of crime.
"Wade, please. Sen. Calderon. Hi Wade. Ha, ha, what do you mean, who's this?"
I became an executive secretary in a short nine years .
--Sarah Flores at a downtown Central City Assn. luncheon.
It is one of those rare gatherings at which the candidates are as generous and friendly to one another as college chums.
In a ballroom at the Hilton Hotel, downtown's power brokers are supping on nicely turned-out walnut salads while the candidates explain how they would change things.
Gloria Molina is hoarse as an old trombone, fighting a nasty cold and fever. Sitting to her right, Calderon politely inquires after her health and pours her a glass of water.
Just this week, Calderon sent out a mailer criticizing her. But Molina gratefully accepts the water and flashes him a broad smile, which he returns. Seasoned politicians know when to be diplomatic.
Molina outlines her plan to expand the county board from five to seven. She discusses her belief that the powerful board cannot remain aloof from crises in housing, smog, transportation and health care that loom in the growing basin.
Her delivery contrasts sharply with that of Flores.
As the only candidate among the four leaders who has never held public office, Flores--longtime aide to retiring Supervisor Pete Schabarum--believes she must explain what sort of person she is, something the longtime politicians are not worried about.
And so she tells how she was raised in the tattered Temple-Beaudry district by a single mother who, sickly and alone, struggled on a tiny income from a job in the garment district.