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L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar sends backers an e-mail defending use of lists that graded support

Jose Huizar says the lists, which he said were the work of a former staff member, helped him stay in touch with constituents.

January 19, 2011|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar sent an e-mail to his reelection supporters Tuesday defending his office's use of lists that graded civic leaders numerically on their level of support for him.

One day after The Times reported on the lists, which assessed police officers, church pastors, high school cheer squad advisors and others within his district, Huizar said the practice was done by a "former staff member" and simply helped him stay "in touch" with his constituents.

"While the list has not been used in years, it was not, as my opponent claimed, some kind of Nixonian 'enemies list,'" Huizar wrote. "It most definitely was not used to determine who received services, or had their potholes filled."

Huizar said his opponent in the March 8 election, businessman Rudy Martinez, "cannot cite one single example of the misuse of that list for any purpose. Not one."

The e-mail went out only hours after Martinez posted three separate lists on his campaign website: for Boyle Heights, El Sereno and northeast neighborhoods such as Monterey Hills and Mount Washington. The lists ranked scores of civic leaders and even some municipal buildings — such as the Eagle Rock Public Library — on their political influence, with 5 being the best score and zero the worst.

Martinez, who provided The Times with copies of the lists, said he believed that Huizar's constituents were treated differently based on their scores. Those documents contained a seven-point scale that labeled Huizar's strongest supporters with a 3 and his diehard foes with a minus 3.

"If Mr. Huizar was in touch with the community, he wouldn't need to have a list," Martinez added.

The exchange was part of an increasingly nasty campaign between the two men, who are seeking to represent a district that stretches from downtown to Eagle Rock. Huizar has made much of Martinez's criminal record, which includes at least one battery conviction. Martinez, in turn, has accused Huizar of misappropriating public funds and failing to energetically serve his district.

Although Huizar tried to pin the list controversy on a single staffer whom he would not identify, three former Huizar aides have told the Times that the councilman worked closely with several of his employees on the lists, changing scores when he disagreed with their assessments. One of those employees is Martinez' mother, Juanita Martinez, who worked for Huizar until June and said she helped to prepare them.

Huizar said Tuesday his staff stopped using the lists "several years ago" but said he couldn't remember exactly when. Martinez' mother provided The Times with copies of e-mails from Huizar's staff bearing dates in 2009 that made references to meetings in which the lists were reviewed.

While Martinez publicly released copies of the lists, Huizar has repeatedly rebuffed requests from The Times for copies of them, saying they are exempted from the state's public records law.

His spokesman said the public would be better served by shielding the councilman's decision-making process and keeping the lists concealed. That decision, Huizar said, was made on the advice of a deputy to City Atty. Carmen Trutanich.

Bill Carter, head deputy for Trutanich, said he could not divulge his advice without violating attorney-client privilege. "We advise our clients of the applicable law, and they decide whether or not the document falls within an exemption or not," he said.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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