Shoppers check out the Friday farmers market on Sixth Street in San Pedro,… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)
Upstairs at the Dalmatian-American Club, in a room overlooking the Port of Los Angeles, folks were finishing platters of grilled swordfish and pouring their second glasses of wine when the club president stood up to acknowledge the guests in the room.
The list included a Los Angeles County supervisor, former members of the state Legislature and four of the top candidates running to replace Janice Hahn on the L.A. City Council in a Nov. 8 special election.
San Pedro's famous fish luncheon, which begins with a prayer and ends with a group rendition of "God Bless America," is an important stop on the South Bay political circuit, and the council candidates had come to break bread alongside longshoremen, lobbyists and a range of locals drawn by a taste for politics or mostaccioli.
Photos: A look at the candidates and District 15
When their names were called, they rose to cheers: restaurant owner Jayme Wilson, Police Officer Joe Buscaino, firefighter Pat McOsker and Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-Gardena). The club's president, former City Councilman Rudy Svorinich, didn't mention it, but he too is running in the race.
The top five fundraisers in a field of 11 candidates, each has strong ties to San Pedro, a working-class neighborhood where much of civic life still revolves around the Croatian and Italian communities established by immigrants who came here generations ago to work on the docks.
The 15th District also takes in Wilmington, Harbor Gateway and Watts, but San Pedro has long been its political center of gravity, typically delivering about half the votes. Diana Nave of the Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council predicts that this year, other parts of the district may play a more influential role because San Pedro voters may have a hard time deciding among a lineup of hometown candidates.
"San Pedro will be split," she said.
Furutani, the front-runner in fundraising, lives in Gardena. But he was born in San Pedro, where his grandmother once worked in a cannery on the harbor.
A large portion of the $132,576 that Furutani had raised as of the Ethics Commission's Sept. 29 filing deadline came from labor unions and his colleagues in the Legislature, where he has been an assemblyman since 2008. He already represents about a third of voters in the Wilmington and Harbor Gateway stretch of the 15th Council District.
During his time in state office, Furutani has helped secure state funds to rebuild a bridge in the Port of Long Beach and was involved in bringing the USS Iowa to the Los Angeles Harbor — a project locals hope will spur tourism. He made headlines this summer after getting into a scuffle on the Assembly floor with a colleague who made a comment that some deemed offensive to Italian Americans.
Furutani, who would be only the second Asian American to sit on the council, says he's sick of the partisan politics of Sacramento and wants to make local change. He has racked up a long list of endorsements, including those of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the Los Angeles Democratic Party, the Sierra Club and several major unions.
But a number of other unions have thrown their support behind McOsker, who until August was head of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles. According to campaign filings, McOsker has benefited from $146,566 in spending by an independent group made up of several unions. On top of that, he has raised about $91,000.
McOsker, whose brother, Tim, was chief of staff to former Mayor James K. Hahn, is a familiar face around City Hall. He has rallied against cuts to public safety during council budget talks and says that if elected, he will work to undo the Los Angeles Fire Department's controversial redeployment plan, which has caused firetrucks or ambulances at about one-fourth of the city's fire stations to be put out of service.
Buscaino, who until recently was the senior lead officer in the Harbor Division of the Los Angeles Police Department, has also pledged to put public safety first. He has promised to build more parks in Wilmington and Watts, and says he would work to reduce the high number of drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities in San Pedro. Buscaino has raised $103,063 and has deep support in the Italian American community — just ask the guys behind the counter at A-1 deli, a corner store on 8th Street famous for its homemade sausages.
Like most of his rivals, Buscaino says reigniting a stalled plan to redevelop eight miles of San Pedro's waterfront is key to economic growth. "I'd like to see our waterfront be LA Live," he said.