Favoring a relative newcomer over the old guard, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday elected its youngest member, Alex Padilla, to serve as council president for the next two years.
On a 9-5 vote, the council backed the 28-year-old Padilla over the far more experienced Ruth Galanter, who held the coveted job since John Ferraro died in April.
"It came down to a choice between promise or experience," said veteran Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who will serve as council president pro tempore. "I think promise is a very important ingredient in making leadership happen in a way that is meaningful. There is no replacement for experience, yet I think Alex will be very, very conscientious in his efforts."
Padilla--the first Latino to serve as council president in more than 100 years--said he felt humbled by the council vote.
"I will be a council president--just like I am a councilman--for all constituencies, for all communities," said the San Fernando Valley lawmaker, adding that he hopes to "capture that spirit . . . of energy and optimism that the new council brings."
As council president, Padilla will run the council meetings and make committee assignments--the sort of thing that gets little notice outside political circles. But within City Hall, those powers give the president great influence over the council's agenda.
Although Mayor James K. Hahn said he stayed out of the politicking for the council presidency, he was clearly pleased by the election of Padilla, who made frequent appearances with Hahn during the mayor's race to support for the then-city attorney.
On Tuesday, Hahn called Padilla's election "outstanding."
"Alex Padilla is just a remarkable young man who, in his first two years in office, really demonstrated the kind of maturity you don't expect from a 26-year-old," said Hahn, during an appearance at an elementary school in Van Nuys, where he helped children plant trees. "And now that he's 28, I'm sure that he's the youngest council president in the city's history."
Hahn said that he and Padilla will be "a great team."
"He, like me, is very supportive of keeping the city together, and that's something that we're going to work very closely on," the mayor said.
All but one of the City Council's six newest members--and four old-timers--voted for Padilla in an alphabetical role call vote. They included Eric Garcetti, Janice Hahn, Cindy Miscikowski, Nick Pacheco, Padilla, Ed Reyes, Joel Wachs, Jack Weiss and Dennis Zine.
After weeks of behind-the-scenes lobbying, both Galanter and Padilla were given five minutes to make their cases before the vote was taken.
Galanter--who has served for 14 years on the council--suggested that her experience and institutional knowledge would benefit the council during a time of unprecedented turnover due to term limits.
"The most significant thing to happen in the coming two years is the departure of all the longtime council members," said Galanter, who has two years left on her fourth and final term. "We have lost and are losing a number of veterans at this time."
Besides herself, voting for Galanter were Hal Bernson, Nate Holden, Ridley-Thomas and newcomer Jan Perry.
Afterward, Galanter appeared bitterly disappointed. "The double-cross is alive and well," she said.
Wachs said he had not made up his mind when he arrived at the meeting on Tuesday. He said he decided to vote for Padilla when he heard his speech.
"Alex moved me by what he had to say," Wachs said. "He rose to the occasion."
Weiss, who took office this week, said Padilla will bring a fresh perspective to the job.
"He represents a new generation of leadership, which is what this council and this city needs," he said. "It was a theme in my campaign. It was a major theme in many of the campaigns. I think it is appropriate for the city to move forward with a new crew.
"It's a very exciting time to serve on the council with so many new people, with so many fresh ideas. I think it's only fitting that we have new leadership. I'm very encouraged."
Padilla--a Pacoima native with a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology--won a special election in 1999 and was reelected this year.
After winning the council presidency, Padilla thanked God, his staff and his colleagues "for trusting me and having the confidence in me to serve you."
"As president, I hope to be a little bit more active than I think we've seen historically" Padilla said. That includes working with each member to set a citywide agenda for public safety, education, job creation, transportation and other priorities, he said.
"I recall two years ago the excitement, the idealism and the energy that you have right now," Padilla told the new council members. "I believe we can come together to capture that and do some tremendous things for the city of Los Angeles."
Times staff writer Matea Gold contributed to this story.