Residents of Los Angeles' Eastside may have felt slighted early in the mayoral campaign. But their community was at the center of attention Wednesday as both candidates aggressively courted the Latino vote.
Richard Riordan announced his endorsement by City Councilman Richard Alatorre at a news conference in Boyle Heights, while a key Latino supporter of Michael Woo prepared to distribute the latest gimmick of the campaign--10,000 videotapes featuring testimonials about Woo.
Latinos are the city's largest ethnic group, making up about 40% of the population but accounting for only an estimated 8% of the voters in last month's primary. Nonetheless, the Latino vote could prove crucial in a close election. In the primary, Woo did better among Latinos, winning 30% of their vote while Riordan received 20%.
In capturing the endorsement of Alatorre, a Latino Democrat, Riordan hopes to blunt the impact of Woo's endorsements from President Clinton and County Supervisor Gloria Molina. Riordan also hopes to use his backing from such minority-group Democrats as Alatorre and black attorney Stan Sanders to counter Woo's portrayal of him as the candidate of Anglo Republicans.
Alatorre endorsed Riordan at the Puente Learning Center, which sits on land owned by Riordan and leased to the educational facility for $1 a year.
As Riordan and Alatorre embraced each other outside the center, Sister Jennie Lechtenberg, director of the facility, gave a personal tribute to Riordan.
She told of the lawyer and businessman dressing up one Christmas as Santa Claus to distribute toys to children at an Eastside housing project. "The suit didn't quite fit," she said. "The pillows kept falling out."
During the news conference, Riordan aides handed out a new mailer featuring Latinos praising Riordan for his fight to reform schools and commitment to "bring Latinos into every level of his administration."
The mailer also said Riordan has supported Latino groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Riordan aides said the candidate once contributed $5,000 to a MALDEF fund-raiser.
Ironically, Riordan's law firm opposed MALDEF in the lengthy battle to carve out a county supervisorial district in which Latinos would be the majority. Such a district was created by court order in 1990 and is now represented by Molina.
Riordan's opposition took the form of $125,000 worth of free legal services provided by his firm to Sarah Flores, a Latina supervisorial candidate who fought the MALDEF redistricting plan.
Flores, a Republican, was a longtime aide to conservative Supervisor Pete Schabarum, a Riordan ally who retired from his 1st District seat in 1990.
Flores came in first in a primary election, but her chance of winning the seat in a runoff was thrown into question when a federal judge ruled in favor of MALDEF, the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Justice Department in their voting rights lawsuits against the county.
As the judge tried to figure out how the district boundaries should be redrawn, Flores approached Gary Mendoza, a lawyer she knew at Riordan's firm, for legal assistance. Flores said she asked Mendoza to go to Washington to try to persuade high-ranking Justice Department officials to switch positions while the case was on appeal.
Flores and Mendoza met with John Dunne, then head of the department's civil rights division, and with the trial lawyer assigned to the case.
Dunne said there was nothing unusual about the meeting: He had an open door policy, and the department did not change its position on the case.
Ultimately, Flores lost in court, a new primary was held in a redrawn district and Molina went on to win the seat.
As Riordan picked up Alatorre's endorsement Wednesday, Assemblyman Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) prepared to distribute the videos urging Latinos to support Woo.
Polanco, who paid for the videos out of his campaign fund, appears in the five-minute presentation. An aide said volunteers will be delivering the tapes to Latino voters and following up with phone calls "to make sure they watch."
The videotape, titled "We Can Make the Difference," also features college professor Gloria Romero, labor leader Gilbert Cedillo and Eastside activist Burt Corona praising Woo for, among other things, opposing former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and assuring that "people in our community are given city contracts."
Early Wednesday morning, Woo toured the produce market and the flower market downtown, telling workers that the businesses there will have his support if he is elected mayor. He then moved to the Manfred Evans Community Adult School, where he was swarmed by excited students, most of them immigrants, who were seeking his autograph.
Woo also staged a news conference outside the Criminal Courts Building, winning the endorsements of former state Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, former San Francisco Dist. Atty. Arlo Smith and a group of 16 young city and state prosecutors.
Times staff writers Richard Simon in Los Angeles and Ronald J. Ostrow in Washington contributed to this story.