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Incumbents hold edge in L.A. council races

Ballot returns show six officeholders fending off challengers. Nine of 10 ballot measures are winning.

March 09, 2011|By David Zahniser and Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times
  • Councilman Jose Huizar greets supporter Lucy Ramos at Salesian High, his campaign headquarters. Huizar had fought an acrimonious race with onetime friend Rudy Martinez.
Councilman Jose Huizar greets supporter Lucy Ramos at Salesian High, his… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

Six members of the Los Angeles City Council were pulling ahead of their challengers in Tuesday's election, despite a year in which council members struggled to get a handle on a sweeping budget crisis.

Nine of 10 ballot measures were sailing to victory, including one to trim pension benefits for newly hired police and firefighters and another that would allocate more money for libraries that were cut back in the wake of fiscal woes.

Voters approved a tax on medical marijuana. But they were narrowly rejecting a tax on oil extraction, which had drawn an expensive opposition campaign from petroleum companies.

With slightly more than half the city vote counted, incumbents Jose Huizar, Tom LaBonge, Paul Krekorian, Herb Wesson and Tony Cardenas had substantially more than 50% of the vote, the threshold for winning outright.

In South Los Angeles, incumbent Bernard C. Parks was leading but had only slightly above the 50% threshold — and was in danger of being pushed into a May 17 runoff. His chief opponent, Forescee Hogan-Rowles, a nonprofit group executive, ran a campaign bolstered by $1.2 million from public employee unions.

Nevertheless, Parks said he was confident he would overcome that opposition. "We feel good and we have every reason to feel good," he said.

Parks had become a target of city workers angry over his promise to seek more layoffs to balance the city's budget shortfall, which has grown to $404 million. Much of the campaign was overshadowed by fears that council members would need to pursue more furloughs and service cuts once the election is over.

One newcomer, political aide Mitchell Englander, was handily winning a northwest San Fernando Valley seat being vacated by Councilman Greig Smith, who is stepping down after eight years. Englander is currently Smith's chief of staff.

In an Eastside district stretching from Eagle Rock to Boyle Heights, Huizar easily turned back a challenge from businessman Rudy Martinez, early results showed. Huizar, who took office in 2005, said voters had absolutely no desire to change their representative.

"Despite all the cuts to the city's budget, we've found creative ways to deliver services to the constituents," said Huizar, who held his reelection party at Salesian High School in Boyle Heights.

Huizar, 42, opened a wide lead over his opponent despite some embarrassing revelations during the campaign. One occurred last month when campaign consultant Michael Trujillo sent an e-mail to supporters promising to put a "political bullet" in Martinez's forehead. Trujillo was fired soon after.

Martinez, 44, said he was disappointed in the results. "The voters I spoke to wanted change. I was the candidate that was willing to put his neck on the line and wanted to represent that change," he said.

Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes portions of Silver Lake, Hollywood and Koreatown, had been dogged by two challengers: producer and writer Stephen Box and businessman Tomas O'Grady. Speaking at Lucy's El Adobe, LaBonge said his experience helped him prevail in his bid for a third term.

"I'm never at City Hall. I'm in the communities of this district and of this city. And I think that's why people responded positively towards me at this point," he said.

Awaiting the results at his Los Feliz home, O'Grady said he continued to assert that voters want new blood.

"I hear LaBonge, at his photo ops, saying everything is fantastic. But it's not fine for most people," he said.

No matter who wins, the council will be asked to decide within weeks on a series of painful strategies for eliminating the $404-million budget shortfall.

The most contentious race proved to be the one involving Parks, who was running for a third term. Hogan-Rowles, who runs a nonprofit firm, won less than 5% of the vote when she ran against Parks in 2003. In this year's rematch, she was buoyed by a huge independent expenditure campaign from an array of unions.

Hogan-Rowles portrayed Parks as inattentive to basic services, such as pothole and sidewalk repairs. She also said he had failed to advocate for new development in the 8th District, which stretches from USC west to Crenshaw Boulevard. While Parks had drawn the ire of public employee unions, Hogan-Rowles said she would not support any additional layoffs or furloughs of city workers. Nevertheless, she insisted that organized labor was only one factor in her campaign.

"This is not just about unions," she said. "This is about block clubs, neighborhood associations, business owners, residents — the gamut," she said. "I had to prove myself, there was a proving ground, it wasn't just, 'Forescee, here's your candidacy."'

Parks, for his part, portrayed Hogan-Rowles as a puppet of the unions who had a weak grasp of the district. One mailer included a message from his mother, Gertrude Parks, who said the outside groups were spreading "lies and rumors."

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