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Alarcon and 3 others vie to replace Padilla

February 26, 2007|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

When voters in Los Angeles loosened term limits for the City Council last November, many political observers wondered how long it would take for a former municipal officeholder to try for his or her old job.

The answer came less than a week later when Richard Alarcon announced that he intended to return to his former post representing the 7th Council District in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

Never mind that Alarcon, after two terms in the state Senate, had just been elected to the Assembly.

Alarcon and three other candidates are vying for the seat vacated by Alex Padilla, who was elected to the state Senate last year, replacing the termed-out Alarcon.

Attempting to keep now-Assemblyman Alarcon from returning to City Hall are Monica Rodriguez, a housing opportunity manager for the California Assn. of Realtors; Oscar Mendoza, the owner of a roofing firm; and Margie Carranza, a retired administrative assistant.

The winner of the special election will fill the rest of Padilla's term, which expires in mid-2009. If Rodriguez, Mendoza and Carranza can prevent Alarcon, widely seen as the favorite, from getting a majority in the March 6 election, the outcome will be decided in a May runoff.

Alarcon has built a big fundraising lead and has name recognition from his 14 years in public office.

He also has the support of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. But Rodriguez and Mendoza have raised enough money to mount substantial campaigns.

Rodriguez, for example, recently sent campaign mailers to voters with an image of Alarcon's head pasted on a photo of a frog. The accompanying headline reads: "Don't be Alarconned," a pointed reference to Alarcon's leapfrogging from job to job over the years.

The 7th District includes the communities of Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills and Sylmar, as well as parts of Pacoima and Panorama City. It is home to Hansen Dam, sprawling industrial tracts along San Fernando Road and horse country in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Alarcon said he's running because he interpreted the term-limit vote in Los Angeles to mean that voters wanted more experienced elected officials.

"I think it would be wrong not to offer them that opportunity," Alarcon said. "It's clear that my opponents are using the classic buzzwords" about being a career politician "but that's because they don't have anything else to offer in terms of substantive service."

When Alarcon decided to run again for the council, he was not living in the district -- he was living with his girlfriend (and now fiancee) in Sun Valley in the neighboring 6th District, he acknowledges. To meet the city's residency requirements, Alarcon in November moved into a home in Panorama City owned by his fiancee, which he shares with her brother.

Rodriguez's campaign has alleged the home is abandoned. Alarcon denies that but said the home is in bad shape and that people had illegally dumped junk on the property.

"They say the house is abandoned -- that's simply a lie," Alarcon said. "I pay the gas bills."

Another matter that Alarcon is not publicizing is that the council job pays $171,648 a year, about $61,000 more than the Assembly post.

Alarcon has raised $209,977, including more than $10,000 from political committees of his colleagues in the Legislature, according to reports on file at City Hall. Alarcon, a Democrat, touts his considerable experience as a longtime city employee, and as an aide to former Mayor Tom Bradley, as well as his service on the council between 1993 and 1999 and on the state Senate from 1999 to 2006.

Among his goals are creating a new anti-poverty council committee, expanding park facilities near Hansen Dam, supporting Villaraigosa's attempts to gain control of the school district and allowing more housing on commercial corridors served by buses.

Alarcon's campaign got a boost in mid-December when two challengers -- Felipe Fuentes, Padilla's chief of staff, and former Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez -- dropped out on the same day. Both said a run against Alarcon would be divisive for the community.

In reality, deals struck among Alarcon, the challengers and the mayor's office helped clear the field.

Alarcon, who is expected to win, would get the mayor's support. Fuentes, who has since endorsed Alarcon, recently confirmed that he will run for Alarcon's Assembly seat if Alarcon wins the council seat.

Montanez was recently appointed by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) to a $123,000-a-year post on the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, and the mayor named her to the city Planning Commission.

Spurning earlier pressure to also drop out, Rodriguez has emerged as the candidate with perhaps the best hope of beating Alarcon. She secured endorsements from the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and The Times, although Alarcon has a far longer list of elected officials and organizations behind him.

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