Joe Buscaino, left, a 37-year-old Los Angeles police officer making his… (Los Angeles Times )
Joe Buscaino is not a dockworker, and yet everyone at the longshoremen's union dispatch hall near the Port of Los Angeles seemed to know him.
They approached from all sides -- a stream of friends, former classmates, athletes he had once coached and even a few proud relatives. Some slapped Buscaino on the back. Others posed with him for pictures. Nearly each interaction ended with the same pledge: "You've got my vote."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, January 17, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Council election: An article in the Jan. 15 California section about the Los Angeles City Council runoff between Joe Buscaino and state Assemblyman Warren Furutani said that after the Pearl Harbor attack, Furutani's grandparents were among Japanese Americans sent to interment camps. It should have said "internment" camps.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, January 22, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Council election: An article in the Jan. 15 California section about the Los Angeles City Council runoff between Joe Buscaino and state Assemblyman Warren Furutani said that after the Pearl Harbor attack, Furutani's grandparents were among Japanese Americans sent to interment camps. It should have said internment camps.
Buscaino, a 37-year-old police officer whose only previous political experience was a stint in 1992 as president of his senior class at San Pedro High School, is the favorite to win Tuesday's runoff election against state Assemblyman Warren Furutani for an empty seat on the Los Angeles City Council. That's thanks in part to broad support in his hometown of San Pedro, where much of the vote in the 15th Council District is typically concentrated.
When Buscaino started campaigning last summer, few outside the Los Angeles Harbor area knew his name, and he had a hard time convincing even his own police union to support him.
But in the months since he came in first among a crowded field of competitors in the November special election, Buscaino has outpaced Furutani in fundraising, and a list of influential elected officials have lined up to endorse him, including former council President Eric Garcetti.
Buscaino and Furutani are both Democrats (Buscaino was a registered Republican until 2010). Both have been hesitant to talk about where they might find cuts to help make up for the city's $72-million budget shortfall -- a major task for cash-strapped L.A.
Buscaino has pledged not to touch public safety budgets, but he supports the privatization of some city services, including a proposal to turn over management of the Los Angeles Zoo to an outside contractor. He dreams of bringing L.A. Live-style development to the San Pedro waterfront.
Furutani also opposes any reductions to the city's large police and fire budgets. He says cuts in other departments should be made with a "scalpel," but says privatization of city services is not the way forward.
In a recent campaign mailer, the 64-year-old Furutani stressed that if he's elected, he won't need "training wheels." And he points out that even though Buscaino has cast himself as a "grass-roots candidate," thanks to the large number of campaign donations Buscaino has received from people inside the district, the candidate has benefited from $389,000 in independent expenditures by labor unions and business groups in the last few months. Furutani has benefited from $70,400 in outside spending on his own behalf in that time.
Some observers thought Furutani was the favorite to win when the special election kicked off last July after former Councilwoman Janice Hahn departed for Congress and he scored early endorsements from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.
San Pedro resident Doug Epperhart said that if the tide has shifted toward Buscaino, it's because voters want new kinds of leaders at City Hall. Buscaino "has got everything except experience," Epperhart said, "and trust me, for a lot of people, that's a good thing."
Epperhart said he does not know whom he will vote for Tuesday. "I'm torn between the notion of what Joe could be and what Warren is," he said.
The 15th Council District takes in Watts to the north, the long city strip of Harbor Gateway, and Harbor City, Wilmington and San Pedro to the south. It's shaped like a wine bottle, and upward of 50% of the district's votes are settled at the bottom in San Pedro, an old-fashioned neighborhood where life tends to revolve around family, ethnic communities and the Port of Los Angeles.
Born there to Italian-immigrant parents, Buscaino served in the area for six years as the Los Angeles Police Department's senior lead officer for the Harbor division -- an experience he likened to being mayor of a small town. In fact, a local blog ordained him San Pedro's "Honorary Mayor."
Buscaino, who went to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union dispatch hall because he had agreed to tag along with dockworkers on a night shift last week, is stocky and energetic. Much of his campaign has been powered by friends and family, of which he has many in the area, he said: "We did have 525 people in my wedding."
He thinks a victory Tuesday will show "it is possible that somebody from the community who is not a handpicked candidate can win."
Buscaino captured 29% of the 16,440 votes cast in the November election, compared with Furutani's 23%. The candidate with the most financial backing from unions -- firefighter Pat McOsker -- came in fourth.
Furutani said he knows his campaign faces "an uphill battle," but he thinks he can pull out a victory even though "conventional wisdom tells you you've got to live in San Pedro and get elected in San Pedro to win."