The state Democratic Party has intervened in the 7th and 14th District races for the Los Angeles City Council, sparking objections Tuesday from some observers who said it is inappropriate for the party to get involved in officially nonpartisan races.
The Democratic State Central Committee reported spending $8,100 on an independent mail campaign supporting 14th District candidate Victor Griego, and $7,000 on mailings for 7th District candidate Alex Padilla.
"We're urging Democrats to vote for the candidates that the local party has interviewed and determined to be the best person for the job," said state Democratic Chairman Art Torres.
Padilla and Griego were both endorsed by the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee, Torres noted.
But for some, the tradition of having nonpartisan elections for local offices is aimed at avoiding the back-room deal-making of partisan races, where political party leaders, rather than voters, often play the major role in picking the leading candidate.
"It's beneficial that local races have been a safe haven for nonpartisan candidates," said Jim Knox, chairman of California Common Cause. "I think it's unfortunate that larger entities like this can play the role of kingmaker in local elections."
Former 7th District Councilman Ernani Bernardi, who has endorsed Padilla, said he does not like to see party politics imposed on local elections.
"It's an insult. It's inappropriate," said Bernardi, a Democrat, who nevertheless saw the state party back union leader Lyle Hall's unsuccessful challenge to him in 1989.
The last time the state party intervened was in 1993, when it launched an independent campaign for Democrat Mike Woo, who was running for mayor against Republican Richard Riordan.
But this time, Corinne Sanchez, who is Padilla's rival for the 7th District, and Nick Pacheco, who is battling Griego in the 14th, are also Democrats. They say that intervention by the political party undermines the nonpartisan nature of local elections.
"It's a shame they are getting involved in a nonpartisan race," Sanchez said. "I think it tends to divide the community to have them get involved."
Pacheco said he does not dispute the right of the Democratic Party to support Griego. But he said he is concerned that those efforts change the nature of the race between the two Democrats.
"I don't think this race should become partisan," Pacheco said. "It completely goes against the tradition of progressive politics in Los Angeles."
The involvement of the Democratic Party could be a big boost for Padilla and Griego, both of whom are running in heavily Democratic districts.
Rick Taylor, campaign manager for Padilla, said about 65% of the registered voters in the northeast San Fernando Valley's 7th District are Democrats.
"We welcome it with open arms," Taylor said of the independent campaign, which supplements not only Padilla's own campaign but also another independent campaign launched by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
In the 14th District, Griego also welcomed the backing.
"I think they saw a distinct difference in who was the 'better Democrat,' " he said.
Although the state Republican Party succeeded in getting a temporary court injunction in 1993 to block the Democrats from continuing to help Woo, a subsequent court decision has opened the door for political parties to become active in local, nonpartisan races, said Common Cause's Knox.
In addition to the backing of the state party and labor, Padilla will also receive the endorsement of Councilman Joel Wachs of Studio City, the campaign said Tuesday.