PACOIMA — A day after his landslide victory in the election for the Los Angeles City Council, Alex Padilla knew Wednesday what he wanted to do first--fix the traffic light in front of his old grade school.
Padilla spent part of Wednesday assuring the staff at Telfair Avenue Elementary School that he is on top of the issue and will take immediate action when he assumes office July 1.
"This will be my very first project," he said during an interview near the stoplight, which does not give children enough time to safely cross the street.
"My campaign was focused on getting back to basics, providing the basic resources the city should be providing," Padilla added. "It's not a revolutionary concept, but it will make a big difference for the kids who come to school here."
Thus began the post-election career of Padilla, 26, the political neophyte who campaigned like a veteran, the newcomer who was endorsed by Los Angeles' political elite.
On Wednesday, Padilla was savoring the victory that came after six months of grueling campaign work in the northeast San Fernando Valley's 7th District.
Padilla received 67.2% of the vote Tuesday, easily winning the race against social service agency director Corinne Sanchez, who received 32.7%.
"It is a thrill," Padilla said of the big victory. "It's very humbling. It's almost overwhelming."
On Wednesday, Padilla traded the dark suit that was his constant attire during the campaign for a white, short-sleeved golf shirt and slacks. He confessed to being tired but relaxed.
The night before, as the election returns came in, Padilla had tears in his eyes as he hugged his parents, both of whom are working-class immigrants from Mexico, who saw their son attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"It was very emotional," Padilla said of election night. "My parents came to this country for opportunity, not for themselves, but for me. This is another step in achieving that."
A former legislative aide to Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar), Padilla said he felt his campaign touched people with its theme that he was the only candidate born and raised in the district and therefore the only one who knew the district's problems firsthand.
"More than anything I think it's the community making a statement that we want leadership that understands our concerns and has been part of the struggle and sacrifice," Padilla said.
He said he may ask for assignments to the public works, transportation, public safety or budget committees, because all present the opportunity to get more resources for his district.
Other priorities for his first days in office include meeting with Police Chief Bernard Parks to discuss public safety in the district, and conferring with Mayor Richard Riordan about ways to improve the economy of the northeast Valley, Padilla said.
Padilla also hopes to play a role in implementing the new City Charter that was adopted Tuesday. He supported the charter. Sanchez opposed it. The charter was approved by 56% of 7th District residents.
In contrast, Sanchez's strong support for Valley secession appears not to have helped her.
Padilla also said his victory was helped by a strong show of support from young people in the district, many of whom volunteered for his campaign.
"Even the voters who would not be placed in the younger category said to me it is time for new ideas, new leadership and a new way of doing things," Padilla said.
It also helped that he had strong support from organized labor and young people.
The Sanchez camp said it was impossible to make up ground on Padilla after he received twice the votes in the April primary. Sanchez said it was a "well-oiled political machine" that won, and her political consultant, Steve Gray-Barkan, agreed that the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor made the difference.
"I really do think labor was the difference," Gray-Barkan said. "Turnout is so unpredictable and they [unions] can control turnout. It's pretty effective when one carpenter can call another carpenter and ask him to vote."
After her poor showing in the primary, Sanchez had trouble raising money to get her message out.
Sanchez's runoff campaign started out with a budget of $207,000, but was forced by lack of funds to scale it back to $110,000, which the campaign failed to meet.
"I think half of the problem was our lack of money and the other half, the bigger factor, was the labor program for Padilla," Gray-Barkan said.
Padilla won 66 of the 71 precincts, many decisively. He lost only in precincts near Sanchez's Sylmar neighborhood.
Whatever the formula, the large margin of victory impressed even those who had backed Sanchez.
"He'll go into the council with a good deal of respect from his colleagues because he won a big victory that was very impressive," said County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
Yaroslavsky, who backed Sanchez, said Padilla won because he worked harder and convinced residents he was genuinely interested in improving their neighborhoods.