There are the paid political consultants. Then there are the family and close friends. The ones with the real access.
For mayoral hopefuls Antonio Villaraigosa and James K. Hahn, those friends and family are the unpaid advisors, the candidates' closest confidants.
Villaraigosa relies on Miguel Contreras, the head of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Hahn often turns to his younger sister, Janice Hahn, who is running her own race for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council.
Contreras speaks daily with Villaraigosa. Janice Hahn talks at least once a day with her brother. Both say they suggest strategy, offer support, give praise.
When all is said and done, Contreras and Hahn will be there as they have been before.
But there is more to these relationships. If Villaraigosa wins, Contreras scores an important personal ally in City Hall, a place where labor desperately seeks to maintain and build power. If Janice Hahn and her brother win, then she has a sibling in the mayor's office--not a bad position for a new council member.
Labor Has an Ally in Villaraigosa
Contreras goes back many years with Villaraigosa. The two met when Villaraigosa was a community activist in the city in 1987. They grew close in those years and particularly two years later when Los Angeles Unified School District teachers went on strike.
Over the years, Contreras steadily built the federation. He increased membership and helped steer it toward more overtly political aims such as the battle to adopt living wage ordinances in Los Angeles and elsewhere.
If Villaraigosa is elected mayor, Contreras says he might not talk to him every day, but he knows he will have his calls returned.
"I do expect discussion on our issues," Contreras said. "I clearly want to talk about the working families agenda. . . . How do we build and keep a middle-class in Los Angeles."
Fabian Nunez, a former political director of the county federation who now works for the school district, said labor might not always get what it wants in a Villaraigosa administration but it will always have a seat at the table.
"I don't think Miguel has any illusions of being the power behind the throne," Nunez said. "But he wants labor's voice to be heard in the mayor's office and that will definitely happen."
Contreras says he will push the mayor to recruit businesses that will offer quality jobs with good wages, health benefits for workers, and bring those jobs to the "urban core" of Los Angeles.
James and Janice Hahn Have Always Been Close
To help Contreras' friend succeed, county labor unions are printing about a million pieces of mail for their membership, running phone banks and planning a large get-out-the-vote effort on election day.
Janice Hahn, on the other hand, is busy running her own campaign--aided by Villaraigosa's campaign consultants.
The sister and brother have always been close; their families vacation together in San Diego or Yosemite. Her children baby-sit for his. They celebrate family birthdays and holidays together.
As the brother-and-sister candidates shuttle across the city, they call each other on their cell phones, checking in throughout the day.
"I say 'Jim, you ought to emphasize this, you did that really well,' " she said. "He gives me advice, tells me I need to walk precincts. He asks me, 'How many hours did you walk today?' "
It is telling, perhaps about both Hahns, that his closest aides point to her as his closest advisor and friend.
If he wins, Janice Hahn said her brother will be unlikely to move himself and his family into the official mayor's residence, Getty House. Instead, she said: "I think Jim will come home to sleep every night in San Pedro."
And, if they both win, she says the combination will greatly boost her constituents in the Harbor area, a section of the city that is considering seceding.
"We're so far away from City Hall that people don't feel the mayor pays attention to us," she said. "I think this will give me better access to the mayor's ear."