The same day Antonio Villaraigosa announced he was running for Los Angeles City Council, voters received a racially charged attack mailer seeking to undermine his support in the Latino community by accusing him of betraying Latino constituents at the urging of his "white advisors."
Although there was no name disclosing who sent out the glossy flier, attorney Ricardo A. Torres II -- a staunch supporter of Villaraigosa's opponent, Councilman Nick Pacheco -- said in an interview late Friday that he spent $5,000 to send out 10,000 mailers to newly registered Latino voters in the 14th City Council District.
A spokesman for Pacheco said the councilman had not yet seen the flier. Pacheco could not be reached for comment.
Torres, who went to law school with Pacheco, said he plans to raise $500,000 to send out two mailers a week blasting Villaraigosa until the former mayoral candidate abandons his bid to represent District 14, which includes parts of Boyle Heights, Highland Park, Eagle Rock and Mount Washington. He warned that the mailers will become increasingly derogatory in the weeks ahead.
"In my mind, Nick Pacheco is a better candidate for this job," said Torres, who describes himself as Villaraigosa's "enemy."
"I ran into Antonio recently at the theater, and I said to him, 'Give me a reason why you are running.' He said, 'Because I need to run.' ... Because of that, I decided I was going to exercise my constitutional right to speak out."
Villaraigosa said he was disgusted by the mailer, which he called "racist."
"There is no place in American politics for ugly racial attacks like this, whether they are targeted at whites, Latinos, Asians or blacks," said Villaraigosa, who announced his candidacy Thursday.
The mailer -- which began arriving at district households Thursday -- has a picture of Villaraigosa with green dollar signs over his eyes. "Antonio Villaraigosa ignored us before when his white advisors said he didn't need Latinos," the mailer said.
The piece -- written in both Spanish and English -- goes on to criticize Villaraigosa for supporting Gov. Gray Davis, who recently vetoed a bill that would have allowed some illegal immigrants to get California driver's licenses.
"After breaking his promise to State Legislators, Gray Davis sent Antonio Villaraigosa on television ... where his pocho Spanish Antonio proudly claimed that Davis was 'Nuestro Mejor Amigo (Our Best Friend).' " ("Pocho" is a derogatory term used to describe Mexican Americans who do not speak Spanish and who only claim to be Latino when it's convenient.)
The piece further stated that Villaraigosa's actions proved that he "listened to the white consultants pulling his strings."
Villaraigosa, who voted to support efforts to issue driver's licenses to certain illegal immigrants when he was in the state Assembly, said he holds Pacheco responsible for the mailers.
"Mr. Pacheco has proven that, once again, he and his operatives engage in the worst kind of negative campaigning," he said.
"It's disgusting that Pacheco's supporters would resort to sending out anti-white mailers to Latino voters. We should be working in this city to bring all Angelenos together -- not divide people based on race and ethnicity."
Political strategist Rick Taylor said he believes the attack mailer against Villaraigosa could backfire on Pacheco.
"Nick said from day one that this would be a very tough, aggressive campaign," Taylor said. "But there's a limit, and racism works both ways. This is clearly crossing the line.
"Mr. Pacheco should denounce this mailer if he has nothing to do with it," Taylor added. "I'm sure somebody is sitting back in a room tonight, laughing, thinking, 'This is great.' But these are the kinds of mistakes that could cost Pacheco the campaign."