Assemblywoman Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) soundly defeated former Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-Baldwin Park) Tuesday in the bitterly fought race to fill a vacant state Senate seat in the San Gabriel Valley.
Because Romero got more than half of the total vote cast Tuesday, she won the seat outright without having to go to a general election.
In addition to the Senate race, voters in 49 cities and school districts throughout Los Angeles County went to the polls to decide dozens of hard-fought council races, board elections and ballot measures.
A measure that would have required bars, clubs, restaurants and hotels in West Hollywood to distribute condoms and safe-sex material lost Tuesday. Also going down to apparent defeat was a measure in Manhattan Beach that would impose tough restrictions on beach events such as volleyball tournaments.
In Pasadena, an advisory measure to back an extension of the Long Beach Freeway was leading in early returns.
Romero, speaking over a raucous crowd of supporters chanting her name in El Monte, attributed her success to a strong message from her campaign on labor and environmental issues. She outpolled Gallegos by a margin of about 2 to 1, winning about 55% of the total vote.
During the final days before the election, the assemblywoman received support from high school students and labor volunteers who walked precincts for her.
The gap in votes over Gallegos is "wider than any margin I even anticipated," Romero said.
Referring to an early assumption made by Gallegos that he was next in line for Hilda Solis' seat, Romero said: "I'm thanking the voters of the 24th District who do not believe you have to stand in line [to run for office] and that seniority dictates who gets to represent the district."
Gallegos said he was stunned by the overwhelming defeat.
"I have no explanation," he said. "We were caught totally off guard."
Gallegos then blamed a dismal 17% turnout in the election, as well as what he called Romero's "negativism."
"There's a possibility that had something to do with turning around voters," he said, adding that he will never seek public office again.
Gallegos, a six-year veteran of the Legislature, was ineligible to seek reelection to the Assembly because of term limits.
The district includes Alhambra, Baldwin Park, Monterey Park, La Puente, El Monte and other nearby cities.
In West Hollywood, the measure sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to help prevent the spread of AIDS failed by a 3-2 margin.
Michael Weinstein, president of the foundation, blamed the defeat on a "scare campaign." The measure's opponents, Weinstein said, contended that its provisions pushed "sexuality in people's faces."
Some voters who opposed the measure said voluntary distribution of condoms and AIDS information was sufficient.
In Pasadena, voters were leaning in favor of Measure A, a nonbinding initiative to support the proposed $1.4-billion Long Beach Freeway extension. The long-delayed, 6.2-mile link would slice through the city's west side, as well as South Pasadena and El Sereno.
Under a competing initiative, Measure C, the city would remain neutral but would develop a traffic plan and improve surface streets.
Measure C would negate Measure A if it gets more votes.
Supporters say the extension would take 100,000 cars off the region's busy surface streets, cut traffic accidents and reduce pollution in Southern California.
Although the final decision on the extension rests with state and federal officials, initiative opponents and supporters say the Pasadena vote could be an important factor.
In South Gate, a blue-collar town in southeast Los Angeles County, early returns indicated that voters there were opposed to a 550-megawatt power plant proposed for a 13.5-acre site on the city's western border.
Although the measure is advisory, the power plant developer, Sunlaw Energy Inc. of Vernon, has promised to relocate the $256-million project if voters oppose it.
Opponents, including a majority of the South Gate City Council, say the pollution from the plant would endanger residents' health.
Mayor Raul Moriel collapsed Monday from dehydration while participating in a hunger strike with two other power plant opponents. Moriel, who was taken to a hospital, and his fellow protesters began a fast Thursday.
Sunlaw representatives say the project will be the country's cleanest power plant and will generate as much as $6 million in annual tax revenue, plus $150,000 a year in community scholarships and $1 million in neighborhood improvements near the plant.
In Manhattan Beach, early returns showed voters were overwhelmingly rejecting the Coastal Conservation Act, which calls for stiffer requirements for beachside commercial events. Supporters say an excessive number of events, such as volleyball tournaments, harm the coastal environment and diminish the quality of life for beach residents.
The measure would require the City Council to review every proposed event, no matter the size, in the coastal zone--an area that includes the city's downtown. The proposal would also limit commercial advertising on the beach.