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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS: LOCAL RACES

Chu jumps to early lead over Cedillo in 32nd Congressional District

Price strongly outdistances rivals in state Senate's 26th District; returns are mixed for L.A. Community College District incumbents; and Palmdale voters are favoring hotel tax hike.

May 20, 2009|Jean Merl

State Board of Equalization Vice Chairwoman Judy Chu jumped to the lead Tuesday night in her bid for the open 32nd Congressional District seat, running well ahead of fellow Democrat state Sen. Gil Cedillo but falling short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff.

Political newcomer Emanuel Pleitez, who surprised politics watchers with his significant fundraising and campaign of personal contacts and energetic volunteers, was running a strong third. Monterey Park Councilwoman Betty Tom Chu was first among the three Republicans on the ballot in the strongly Democratic district.

"I'm really excited, and I feel so honored by the votes of the people in the district," Judy Chu said at her victory party at Nick's Taste of Texas restaurant in Covina as the ballot tallying neared an end.

Judy Chu, a Chinese American, campaigned on her experience and deep roots in the district and worked to build coalitions across ethnic lines.

In the state Senate's 26th District, early returns showed Democratic Assemblyman Curren Price Jr., a former Inglewood councilman, easily outpolled Republican Nachum Shifren and Cindy Varela Henderson of the Peace and Freedom Party to win the seat.

Voters are saying "they want seasoned, experienced legislators to go to Sacramento and do their job," said Price, who skipped the traditional election night party and instead gave the $5,000 he would have spent to five nonprofit organizations.

He promised to help cut the state budget in light of the failure of the money-raising measures and to follow through on his pledge to create 10,000 jobs in the Senate district.

For seats on the Los Angeles Community College District board, auditor Tina Park was leading incumbent Angela Reddock for Office 2 while another incumbent, Nancy Pearlman, was running ahead of attorney Robert Nakahiro for Office 6.

In Palmdale, voters were authorizing an increase in the city's hotel tax and also narrowly approving a proposal to rescind term limits for City Council members, early returns showed.

Among the few local races on Tuesday's ballot, the congressional district race was widely watched because of its test of ethnic politics.

The hotly contested special election in the San Gabriel Valley-based district featured 12 names on the ballot and at least one write-in candidate.

There will be a runoff July 14 among the top vote-getters from each of the parties in the race. Because the district is strongly Democratic, however, it is widely expected that the seat ultimately will go to the Democrat. The seat, one of the few area elected offices without term limits, opened unexpectedly with the appointment of Hilda Solis as U.S. labor secretary.

From the start, the race was generally seen as a two-way contest between Cedillo, a labor union leader before his 1998 election to the state Assembly and later the state Senate, and Chu, a former member of the Monterey Park City Council and the Assembly.

Both are liberal Democrats with similar views and strong ties to labor in the working-class district. But their candidacies were testing the power of ethnic politics in the district, home to large numbers of Latinos -- about half the registered voters -- and a growing population of Asian Americans.

Cedillo, backed by such local politicians as Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina and Sheriff Lee Baca, worked to mobilize his Latino base. He raised about $717,000.

Chu, trying forge a multi- ethnic coalition, had backing from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) and a host of elected officials from San Gabriel Valley cities and school boards.

Chu, who raised nearly $1 million, also had the support of the California Democratic Party and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which spent about $150,000 campaigning on her behalf.

The United Farmworkers Union endorsed both Cedillo and Chu, which some saw as an indication of conflicting loyalties within labor.

In addition to Pleitez, other Democrats on the ballot were former Monterey Park Mayor Francisco Alonso, former Solis aide Benita Duran, filmmaker Stefan "Contreras" Lysenko, attorney Nick Juan Mostert and kitchen designer Rafael F. Nadal.

Republicans on the ballot besides Betty Chu were restaurant owner Teresa Hernandez and businessman and police chaplain David A. Truax.

Christopher M. Agrella, the only Libertarian on the ballot, was guaranteed a spot in the July runoff. By contrast, the special runoff election in the Senate's 26th District, which includes some Los Angeles communities as well as Culver City and Ladera Heights, among others, was a lopsided contest.

Most of the action in the economically and ethnically diverse district was in the March primary.

Although they both campaigned energetically, neither Shifren, a rabbi, public school teacher and triathlete with conservative views, nor Henderson, a telephone technician who advocated raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy, had the resources to reach voters in the heavily Democratic district.

--

jean.merl@latimes.com

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