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10th District Voters Face 2 Choices: Old Way or a New Day

May 18, 2003|Steve Lopez

L.A. City Councilman Nate Holden, as it turns out, did not appreciate my suggestion that we erect a statue of him outside City Hall with his hand out.

When Holden called to complain, I let him have his say. At least he's reading the column, and it stands to reason that it's no fun having some wise-guy scribe remind everyone that you exceeded campaign spending limits 334 times.

Holden, who is about to be termed out of office, offered to drive me around the 10th District and show off his accomplishments. But he also called to say his longtime aide, Deron Williams, helped him get the job done. He said Williams is the right man to replace him, despite Williams' difficulty in remembering what those bags of cocaine were doing stuffed down his pants in 1988.

Since Holden and I spoke, my colleague Peter Hong reported that a former Williams campaign official says two church groups helped Williams circumvent campaign spending limits by funneling donations to him. This reminds us that the Lord works in mysterious ways, and that the nut doesn't fall far from the tree.

But, as I said before, this isn't just an election between Williams and his runoff opponent -- Martin Ludlow. In a district that's increasingly Latino and decreasingly African American, it's a choice between the old way and the new day represented by Ludlow, a man of mixed race who is backed by the city's leading Latino political figure -- Antonio Villaraigosa.

"Symbolically, this election is big," says Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles. "It touches on all the issues facing contemporary Los Angeles -- the ethnic shifts, the rise of Latinos and the decline of African Americans."

The district is about one-quarter white and, although Latinos are in a majority, African Americans account for just over half the registered voters. Williams has support from each group, and pulled 39% of the vote among six candidates in March to Ludlow's 26%, putting the two of them in this runoff.

But Guerra thinks Ludlow represents a transition to a more multicultural kind of leadership. So it's understandable, Guerra said, that some black residents are more comfortable with Williams.

Lawrence Tolliver, a black barber who has gone to see both candidates speak several times, fills out his scorecard like this:

"If Deron wins, we've still got three blacks on City Council. If Ludlow wins, it's 2 1/2."

When he said that, Tolliver didn't know Ludlow was of mixed race. He meant that he considered Williams more of a sure bet for the black community, even though Ludlow strikes him as more polished. Williams has trimmed trees and paved roads in Holden's name. People know and trust him, despite his indiscretions.

"Ludlow is very sharp, but if you listen to him long enough, he'll contradict himself," Tolliver says. "Ludlow is not his own man."

Then who's he working for?

The Devil himself, if you believe the flier "paid for by the 10th District Christians [sic] women for family values." The "Christians women" call him a playboy, liar, carpetbagger and worse. "We have had enough sex scandals and spousal abuse in politics," says the flier.

Lovely. With bullets flying, services drying up and dozens of problems to talk about in the Mid-City district, we've got gutter-sniping from a Christian group.

Ludlow, 38, went through a divorce and bankruptcy "and I got turned upside-down for a while." But much of the smut being tossed around by Williams' supporters is to their own shame, not Ludlow's.

Over breakfast at Tak's coffee shop in the Crenshaw district, Ludlow told me he was born to a black father and white mother and given up for adoption before he was a year old. He was raised by white social activists at Oberlin College in Ohio.

He has a son named for Nobel Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu, who visited his parents' home, and a daughter named for poet Maya Angelou, another acquaintance. And he has worked as a staff member or campaigner for Julian Dixon, Al Gore, Herb Wesson, Tom Bradley, Alan Cranston, Michael Dukakis and Villaraigosa.

Ludlow says that when he knocked on doors for Villaraigosa's mayoral campaign, some black residents of the 10th District took the literature and tore it up in front of him.

"We're at a point in L.A. where we've got to get beyond that," Ludlow said, because schools, crime and the economy are problems for everyone.

"It's a tough moment for us," he said of African Americans who feel as if they're losing political clout as the city changes. But Ludlow said he's tired of hearing complaints about the economy from people who choose not to take available jobs and work their way up.

"I think a lot of African Americans in the 10th District get what's happening and are just looking for someone to raise the bar on leadership," he said. "We need someone to lead us through all our problems, not someone who's going to plant a flag, build a fence, and tell everyone else to stay out."

Ludlow pushed his unfinished pancakes away and leaned across the table.

"The enemy is not people moving into the district," he said. "It's the conditions that are causing people to move out."

Tuesday is your day to weigh in and, if you don't hear it from Nate Holden, you heard it here:

Vote early and often.


Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.

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