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March 8 Endorsement

Rudy Martinez for L.A. City Council's 14th District

The challenger to City Council incumbent Jose Huizar has deep ties to the community.

February 04, 2011

In the City Council's 14th District, two candidates are competing in one of the most closely contested elections in Los Angeles this year. Incumbent Jose Huizar and challenger Rudy Martinez are vying to lead a district that stretches from Boyle Heights and El Sereno to Eagle Rock and Mt. Washington. They offer voters notably different backgrounds and approaches to serving. The Times endorses Martinez.

Huizar is a veteran of local politics, having previously served on the school board and having held the City Council seat since 2005, when he was elected to fill the vacancy created by Antonio Villaraigosa's move to the mayor's office. Bright, articulate and well educated, he can point to a list of minor achievements — a bridge improvement here, protection of open space there, support for a Department of Water and Power ratepayer advocate and opposition to the 710 Freeway extension. Although his record is not exactly inspiring, it's hardly a failure.

Where Huizar has disappointed is in the brass tacks of listening to constituents. All across his district, residents complain that he is aloof and out of touch. They feel neglected in Boyle Heights; they say he was slow to recognize the potential of York Boulevard in Eagle Rock. They want blight eradicated and business encouraged. Huizar's remove from the district was exemplified by the recent disclosure of a list his office kept of community leaders, ranking them by influence and the councilman's relationship to each. That's not an indictable offense — most politicians do the same basic thing, in their heads — but that he needs his staff to keep a list suggests how tenuous his ties are.

Martinez is energetic and engaging, and thoroughly immersed in the civic life of the district. A successful restaurateur and house flipper — he starred in the cable series "Flip This House" — he is campaigning in precisely the opposite of Huizar's fashion. Where the councilman relies primarily on mail, Martinez emphasizes knocking on doors, soliciting votes one at a time.

The race has grown ugly at moments as the candidates scramble for votes, recognizing that just a few thousand people in this notoriously low-turnout district will decide the outcome. Huizar says some Martinez contributors were improperly reimbursed for their campaign donations; Martinez says the FBI has interviewed him about Huizar's long delay in paying for some home repairs. One Huizar line of attack has been to remind voters that Martinez had a few arrests as a young person — for loitering, a DUI and a couple of scuffles. That's true, but all were minor offenses and occurred when Martinez was a young man going through a tough time. None offers any insight into the man or candidate he is today.

Indeed, what Martinez could bring is something that today's council has too little of: representatives who focus on the communities that elect them. That once was the mainstay of Los Angeles city politics, when council members such as John Ferraro, Richard Alatorre and Ruth Galanter understood that the city's needs were paramount but also understood their districts and labored to improve them. Martinez offers a return to that tradition.

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