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Los Angeles Elections

Holden, Candidates for Open Council Seats Face Runoffs

Voting: New generation of Latino leaders vie for majority, while veteran incumbent--although a survivor--may have difficult race ahead.

April 14, 1999|BETH SHUSTER and PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In an election with a pitifully low turnout, veteran City Councilman Nate Holden may be the only incumbent forced into a runoff in Tuesday's primary elections. In other races, political neophytes representing a new generation of Latino leaders battled it out for open council seats on the Eastside and in the San Fernando Valley.

In preliminary election returns, it appeared that no candidate in the Mid-City's 10th District, the Eastside's 14th District or the Valley's 7th District received more than 50% of the vote, the percentage needed to win outright. Instead, it appeared that runoffs June 8 are ahead between Holden and Scott Suh in the 10th District, Nick Pacheco and either Alvin Parra or Victor Griego on the Eastside, and Alex Padilla and Corinne Sanchez in the Valley.

For two open council seats, a host of political novices fought hard to win some name recognition and sway a generally contented public. Organized labor pushed particularly hard in the northeast Valley, though several of the 14 candidates on the Eastside also had individual union support. Endorsements from elected officials were split among the candidates in both races, in which council seats were vacated by the retirement of council power Richard Alatorre and the election of Richard Alarcon to the state Senate in November.

Holden, who faced three challengers, had a particularly tough election season, but the veteran politician--known around City Hall as the consummate survivor--has faced and won runoffs before. Suh is expected to mount an aggressive campaign from now until June. Suh represents a coalition of community members who are eager to oust the incumbent, who is seeking a final four-year term before being forced into retirement by term limits. Others in the race were Madison Shockley and Marsha Brown.

Holden's challengers played up sexual harassment charges against him and campaign fund-raising concerns. He lashed back with some particularly harsh mailers, then announced that he had won the deathbed endorsement from former Mayor Tom Bradley, particularly surprising since Holden had run against Bradley for mayor and Bradley had twice endorsed Holden's council opponents.

Other council incumbents, Hal Bernson, John Ferraro, Ruth Galanter, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Joel Wachs, appeared to have easily won their way back to City Hall for their final four years under voter-approved term limits. While those council members attended community events and candidates forums and sent out some mail to voters this spring, they did not mount aggressive reelection campaigns.

Tuesday's dismal voter turnout appeared slightly higher than the 18% recorded by the city clerk's office in April 1991, one of the lowest turnouts for a primary in the past 20 years.

Mayor Richard Riordan said he was pleased by early returns that showed his favored candidates in two council races leading, although at least one was facing the strong likelihood of a runoff.

"I have a lot of respect for the public," he said.

The mayor added that if any of the candidates he endorsed face runoffs in June, he will provide them political and financial support.

"They're going to have to run a very tough campaign," he said. "I'll be there for them."

As nervous candidates on the Eastside and the Valley spent election day walking precincts and phoning voters, many said the low turnout had a significant effect on the outcomes of those races.

"A lot of candidates are biting their nails and sitting on the edge of their seats today," said Fabian Nunez, the political director of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. "But you've got strong working-class districts where the majority of the people will vote in the late afternoon or evening before the polls close. It's hard to tell" how that will affect individual candidates.

On the Eastside, the primary election was more about personalities than issues. Many candidates attacked Luis Cetina, Victor Griego and Armando Hernandez for carpetbagging. Cetina, however, pointed out that he has lived in the district for more than two years; Griego and Hernandez moved in shortly before the city deadline to run for the office.

But Griego, a community and political organizer who had the backing of state Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and state Senate Majority Leader Richard Polanco, worked the neighborhoods hard. He had trained volunteers in 62 of the 85 precincts calling and visiting potential voters. He sent out community surveys to residents seeking their input and concerns. He then enlisted the support of hundreds of residents in weekend cleanups where, he boasted, they picked up 10 tons of trash. He insisted Tuesday evening that he will continue the cleanups whether he wins or loses.

Speaking at his packed campaign headquarters, Griego said: "What we saw was 14 candidates trying to get their name out. The two in the runoff are going to have to do more than get their name out, they're going to have to get their ideas out."

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