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Huizar goes on the defense as he faces former aide

The councilman is the front-runner with more endorsements, but Alvin Parra's campaign is ready with criticism.

February 12, 2007|Tony Barboza | Times Staff Writer

Although he has been on the job little more than a year, Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar had expected to run unopposed as he seeks his first full term next month. Instead, he finds himself battling a former aide, who mounted a surprise bid for the 14th District seat.

Alvin Parra, Huizar's former district director, resigned and threw his hat into the ring just minutes before the November filing deadline, forcing Huizar to roll out a defensive campaign.

Parra faces an uphill battle; Huizar is heavily favored as an incumbent, with more endorsements and donors.

"I wouldn't have done anything if I didn't have an opponent," Huizar said of his fundraising campaign that is underway for the March 6 election.

Huizar, former president of the Los Angeles Board of Education, was elected to the Eastside-based district in November 2005 to replace newly elected Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Born in the Mexican state of Zacatecas, Huizar prides himself on being the first foreign-born Latino on the City Council.

Parra, born and raised in El Sereno, has billed himself as a homegrown candidate with the support of loosely organized community members dissatisfied with Huizar. This is Parra's fourth bid for the seat, although he dropped out in 2003 after raising more than $81,000.

A third candidate, Juan Jimenez of Boyle Heights, also is on the ballot; this is his third bid.

Parra and Huizar are vying for a sprawling district that includes, besides El Sereno, Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights and Lincoln Heights, parts of Highland Park, Mount Washington and downtown.

The area faces a slew of issues, including a fight over development in the northeast hills and ongoing troubles with homelessness and violent crime. The Hollenbeck division of the Los Angeles Police Department, which patrols much of the district, reported 30 homicides in 2006 and, like the city overall, a spike in gang-related crime.

Parra has been capitalizing on his insider knowledge to dig up dirt on Huizar, observers of the campaign said. The tactics are familiar to District 14, known for its musical chairs-style shuffling of elected representatives in recent years and attack-ridden campaigns. The district seat has turned over three times since Councilman Richard Alatorre left office in 1999.

"Throughout my tenure with Mr. Huizar, even though he was my employer, I began to disagree with his attitude toward the district," said Parra, who contends that Huizar ignored his constituents by letting the number of deputies in local field offices dwindle.

Huizar acknowledged the losses, but he said that they were because of attrition and that the people who left were replaced.

Huizar demoted Parra from district director to field deputy after several months because he "simply was not performing" but kept him on at the El Sereno field office because he knew the area well.

Last month, Parra sent a mailing to district residents accusing his former boss of failing to act against a convicted child molester who had taken pictures of children at a fluorescent-lightbulb giveaway sponsored by Huizar in July.

Parra said it was only through the "independent efforts" of his and other deputies in the El Sereno office that the sex offender was jailed for violating his parole, which stated that he could not own a camera.

Huizar disputed that, saying he personally instructed his staff to investigate the matter and was acknowledged by state parole officials for notifying police.

"All that Alvin's been putting out are hits on me," Huizar said. "He takes an event and twists it to make me look bad."

Huizar has had to do more self-promotion than anticipated. His campaign kickoff last month was a who's who of city politics, featuring City Council members, Villaraigosa and several state legislators. Hundreds of supporters gathered outside Huizar's campaign headquarters -- a blue Victorian house in Boyle Heights -- as mariachis and cheerleaders performed.

Parra's campaign launch consisted of a small contingent of his supporters, who gathered on the sidewalk outside Parra's modest headquarters on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock.

Huizar, a land use attorney, said he hoped to boost commercial development in such major corridors as Huntington Drive and Eagle Rock Boulevard and push for high-density housing in the Arts District in the east part of downtown.

At the same time, he has carved himself a sensitive position between developers and environmentalists, two groups eyeing the undeveloped hillsides in the northeast of the city.

Huizar acknowledged that many of his campaign contributors are developers but said they had no effect on his decision making.

Parra said they did and alleged that Huizar did not have real grass-roots support.

Parra said he would improve the district by providing basic services for constituents, including street repair and crime reduction. He also would hire a full-time deputy for gang intervention and would donate 20% of his salary to charity, he said.

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