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Huizar Has the Cash and Key Backers

October 30, 2005|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

Convinced that there are serious problems with the city's public schools, Jose Huizar believes he knows one good way to fix them -- by serving on the Los Angeles City Council.

It's an interesting move, given that Huizar is a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District board and was its president until four months ago.

"I think that the City Council has a bigger and larger role to play in education, and with my background I think I can connect the council and LAUSD," Huizar said.

"We're building 160 new schools in the next eight years, and there are real opportunities for joint planning in where we're siting the schools. We could put them near parks, for example, and create mini-civic centers all around Los Angeles."

Thus far, Huizar's run for the council is proceeding as planned. He has the backing of the city's mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa. Ten of the 13 council members have also announced their support, including six who served with his chief rival, former Councilman Nick Pacheco.

And there has been no shortage of money. The latest fundraising figures show that Huizar has brought $352,968 into his campaign coffers, more than double Pacheco's total.

With a big push planned for the next nine days, Huizar believes he can win the race for the vacant council seat outright on Nov. 8 and be serving on the council by the holidays.

Huizar, 37, was elected to the school board in 2001, was reelected in the spring and has earned a reputation as a young Latino politician on the rise.

The question posed by his candidacy is whether anyone from the school board can gain traction in city politics. As Pacheco has frequently said during the campaign, Villaraigosa campaigned hard on fixing the troubled schools and Huizar, in Pacheco's view, is guilty by association.

Huizar was born in Zacatecas in the Mexican highlands. When he was 3, his parents moved to Boyle Heights in search of a better life. His father worked as a farm laborer and machinist; his mother was a meatpacker.

Like Villaraigosa, Huizar ran with a rough crowd during his youth and, by his account, didn't straighten out until he chose to attend a Catholic high school, where a priest befriended him and steered him toward college.

And, like Pacheco, Huizar attended UC Berkeley. Huizar then went on to Princeton University, where he earned a master's degree in public policy and urban planning and then a law degree from UCLA.

After college, he began his career as a land-use attorney, was appointed to the East Los Angeles Planning Commission and then won a seat on the school board. On the board, the El Sereno resident helped revive construction of the stalled Belmont High learning complex downtown and this year, with council President Alex Padilla, helped create a city commission to recommend changes to the way L.A. Unified is governed.

The 14th District shares a border with the 1st District of Councilman Ed Reyes, who was a city planner before joining the council.

"I'm backing him for a basic reason: He has shown he can work with multiple interest groups," Reyes said.

Huizar has consistently argued that education is a seminal issue in Los Angeles. Yet, less than three months after winning reelection to the school board in March, he announced his candidacy for the council, because, he said, he has more to offer the city on the council.

"I speak to parents at the schools, and they've been asking me to get more involved in local issues, and that kind of gave me the idea to broaden my service," he said.

While Pacheco has attacked Huizar's school affiliation, Huizar has sniped back. For instance, he recently criticized Pacheco for accepting a $500 donation from Ricardo Torres, an attorney who sent mailers in 2003 accusing Villaraigosa of being a womanizer. At the time, Pacheco told The Times that Torres was "being an idiot."

But Huizar also has been in the news for his fund-raising. Long after his opponent for his school board seat dropped out of this year's race, Huizar continued to raise and spend money. Ultimately, he brought in more than $330,000, with much of the money coming from construction-related companies or individuals involved in those trades.

Another issue has been Huizar's political ambitions and whether he will serve out the term, unlike the last incumbent, Villaraigosa. When Villaraigosa ran for the council in 2003, he promised to serve a full term. Thirteen months after taking office, he announced his mayoral candidacy.

It has remained a sore point with many community activists because the district has not had a vote on matters before the council since Villaraigosa took office July 1. Huizar tried to defuse those fears this week and said that, if elected, he would hope to stay on the council until term limits would prevent him from running again in 2015.

"The district needs stability," he said. "I would have nearly 10 years [if elected]. I would love this job."

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