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Challenge for Ludlow

May 22, 2003

Most people predicted that Tuesday's runoff election to replace termed-out City Councilman Nate Holden in Los Angeles' Mid-City 10th District would be close. It wasn't. Voters chose newcomer Martin Ludlow over Holden's longtime aide and designated heir, Deron Williams, by a comfortable margin, 56% to 44%.

Ludlow, whom The Times endorsed, would argue that he won because he campaigned hard and offered new ideas to a district that includes parts of Wilshire Center, West Adams, Koreatown, Pico-Fairfax and the Crenshaw area. But as in any election, other factors played a role as well.

One that's hard to weigh is how much Williams contributed to his own loss by bungling the revelation of a 15-year-old cocaine conviction. Easier to measure is the massive get-out-the-vote drive that organized labor orchestrated on Ludlow's behalf.

Unions contributed more than $337,000 to Ludlow's campaign (don't count on him to back campaign finance reforms to rein in independent spending) and sent 650 union workers knocking on doors in the days leading up to the election.

In March, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, worked equally hard for Antonio Villaraigosa, the former Assembly speaker and Ludlow's one-time boss, in his successful bid for the City Council. Federation leader Miguel Contreras has called the joint effort a "motion-made-and-seconded campaign," clearly signaling that he expects Ludlow to join Villaraigosa in a one-two punch for union causes.

Ludlow, who briefly worked for the federation, downplays his ties to labor, saying that he's for creating more jobs and knows that to do so he has to get along with business owners. But just as Williams, if he had won, would have had to prove he wasn't just a clone of former boss Holden, Ludlow now has to show that he is his own -- or rather, his district's -- man and not beholden to the labor turnout that helped elect him. Plenty of tough labor issues will challenge the council's ability to find consensus, from city living-wage negotiations to possible downsizing of city departments.

Ludlow campaigned as the candidate of fresh ideas -- a renewed Crenshaw Boulevard that would rival the old Central Avenue, new jobs, better community-police relations -- that the Mid-City 10th District sorely needs. His first responsibility, then, must be not to the people who paid for his campaign but to the people who voted for his election.

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