A labor organizer who is also Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's cousin said Friday that he is running in the June 3 election for the legislative seat being vacated by state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.
John Perez, 38, described his plans a day after stepping down from the board of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, where he spent two years as a mayoral appointee.
His candidacy quickly injected some drama into a race that also features a Nunez aide and an aide to state Sen. Gil Cedillo. Both legislators are Democrats representing neighborhoods in and around downtown Los Angeles.
Nunez, a powerful statewide leader, sent an e-mail Thursday asking his allies to support his candidate, Ricardo Lara. Cedillo, for his part, will co-host a fundraiser in Sacramento next month for his aide, district director Arturo Chavez.
Despite the high-powered involvement, all three candidates downplayed their ties to more famous politicians, saying they will run on their own qualifications.
"I want to be judged on my own merit, as my own individual," said Lara, who lives in Boyle Heights and spent eight years working for now-deceased Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh before joining Nunez.
Nunez represents an assembly district that includes Boyle Heights, Little Tokyo, Westlake, Vernon and part of South Los Angeles. He has served in the post since 2002 and, since his recent effort to roll back term limits failed, will be forced to leave office at the end of the year.
Villaraigosa declined to say whether he would back Perez, whose mother was the sister of Villaraigosa's mother.
The mayor already has one family member in public life -- his sister, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Mary Lou Villar, who was placed on the bench by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Perez, who is openly gay, is a late arrival to the race, having moved into the district from Los Feliz earlier this month. Perez, who grew up in El Sereno, has spent seven years handling political matters for the Orange County office of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents supermarket workers.
With a 15-year union background, Perez hopes to grab the endorsement of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the 800,000-member union coalition whose secretary treasurer, Maria Elena Durazo, is an ally of Villaraigosa.
Although Durazo also has been an ally of Nunez, the two were seriously at odds last year over the Assembly speaker's support of Indian gaming compacts.
"A good portion of labor is ticked off at Fabian, so that makes John very competitive" in the quest for union support, said Jaime Regalado, who heads the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.
Regalado pointed out that Cedillo and Villaraigosa also are no longer close.
And there is another personal dynamic to the race: If Villaraigosa endorses Perez, he could risk alienating Nunez, whom he has relied on when seeking state transportation funds for Los Angeles and the passage of his education bill, which was later struck down in court.
Chavez, 44, said he has more life experiences than his opponents, including a 15-year stint running a vocational training business for injured workers.
A fourth Democratic candidate, Michael Aldapa, lives in Lincoln Heights and has no ties to any politician.
"I'm definitely the underdog," he said.