"It's sort of a sad time," she said. "I'm glad that the wheeling and dealing will be gone . . . but at the same time, there's a lot of things I think we're going to miss. Richard offered the Latino community political power that it never had."
His departure also shakes up the power balance in City Hall, where Alatorre was a staunch supporter of Mayor Richard Riordan, who credits the councilman's endorsement in 1993 as "a huge boost to my campaign." Once elected, Riordan, a political novice, relied heavily on Alatorre for help in moving his legislative program through the council. "He was my point man," Riordan said. "He would lobby other members to get them to go along, and get their thoughts. He was an incredible resource."
Alatorre also was instrumental in paving the way for Bernard C. Parks to become the new Los Angeles police chief. He wielded great clout as a key member of the MTA and an expert on the city budget process.
Despite his influence downtown, some opponents complained that the councilman neglected his district in recent years, providing instead for his friends. During the recent campaign, Pacheco strongly criticized Alatorre for ignoring the needs of the area, as did candidate Alvin Parra, who came in third. In 1995, an outspent Parra nearly forced Alatorre into a runoff by focusing on similar themes.
Alatorre dismisses criticism that the district has suffered, although he admits he has been distracted by the controversies of the past year, along with recent health problems.
Last summer, he was consumed by a bitter legal battle over the custody of his niece. During the course of that trial, the judge ordered him to take a drug test, and he failed.
"That judge . . . saved my life," said Alatorre, who went into drug rehabilitation. Battling his addiction is a daily struggle, he said. "I wake up with it, I live it. I thank God at the end of the day that I'm clean and sober."
But Alatorre blames the bulk of the turmoil in the last few years on a series of articles in The Times detailing allegations of his financial improprieties and drug use.
"I would wish the same level of scrutiny [be focused] on somebody else," he said. "Why just me?
"I didn't establish the rules of the game," he added. "I just learned them well and know how to apply them. . . . Yet they write about how sinister that is."
In the end, for the sake of his family, Alatorre said he decided not to seek another term, a move he began considering more than a year ago.
"It would have been the ugliest campaign, but I would have killed any of [the other candidates]," he said. "But the price was too high."
The former Garfield High School student body president says he looks back on his 28 years of representing the Eastside with pride, and has little trepidation about the future.
"I was very fortunate to grow up in East Los Angeles and to learn what I consider my greatest attribute," he said. "I know how to survive."
Times staff writer Carl Ingram contributed to this story.