Ilana Fuentes, 13 months, held by her mother, Lena Wu-Fuentes, reaches… (Richard Drew / Associated…)
Voters from opposite ends of the San Fernando Valley are preparing to vote on two L.A. City Council seats pitting well-known state lawmakers leading in both fundraising and major endorsements against an array of lesser-known contenders.
Former Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar), along with three other candidates, is looking to replace veteran lawmaker Richard Alarcon in the northeast Valley's 7th District. In the West Valley, Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills) is targeting the 3rd District seat being vacated by Dennis Zine.
Fuentes has so far raised $196,351, more than 10 times that of his three competitors combined. Blumenfield's advantage is smaller, $110,177, compared with $81,000 raised by attorney and CPA Joyce Pearson, his next closest competitor.
Fuentes and Blumenfield are not alone in the Sacramento-to-Los Angeles revolving door this campaign season.
Four other current and former Sacramento legislators are seeking offices at City Hall in the March 5 primary: Former Assemblyman Mike Davis and state Sen. Curren Price are among seven candidates running in the 9th Council District; state Sen. Gil Cedillo is seeking the 1st District seat; and Assemblyman Mike Feuer is hoping to unseat City Atty. Carmen Trutanich.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, February 20, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Valley council races: In the Feb. 19 LATExtra section, an article about candidates seeking Los Angeles City Council seats representing the San Fernando Valley identified Gil Cedillo as a state senator and city attorney candidate Mike Feuer as a state assemblyman. The two are former members of the Legislature.
The Sacramento-to-Los Angeles trend has been apparent for at least a decade with statewide candidates looking for their next office as a result of term limits, said Dan Schnur, director of USC's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. The trend presents a double-edge sword for Angelenos, Schnur said.
It can discourage younger and more grass-roots candidates from entering a race, he said. But it also brings a level of governing sophistication not normally seen at the municipal level. Fuentes, for instance, served as a deputy mayor under former Mayor James K. Hahn, and Blumenfield for years handled a multitude of local issues as chief of staff to former Rep. Howard L. Berman, who represented the West Valley until he was unseated in November.
Fuentes and Blumenfield also enjoy backing from major public employee unions, benefiting from a cadre of foot soldiers to make phone calls and knock on doors to turn out the vote. Their competitors admit it can be daunting.
"Some days you feel empowered, other days you feel like you're up against Goliath," said Elizabeth Badger, owner of B&B Automotive in Canoga Park, and one of five District 3 candidates who are competing with Blumenfield for a seat that covers Reseda, Tarzana, Canoga Park and Woodland Hills.
The others are Pearson, custom car builder Cary Iaccino, city investigator Steven Presberg and commercial real estate broker Scott Silverstein. They are attending debates, walking neighborhoods and putting up lawn signs. Many have also set up Facebook pages that tell of upcoming events.
Iaccino, in his first run for office, says he's not going to let Blumenfield's edge distract him from getting his pro-business message out. He's been walking neighborhoods for weeks, he said. Silverstein tells audiences he wants to see the city's work force trimmed and the business tax phased out.
Presberg says he welcomes his independence from public employee unions -- even though as an investigator in the city's personnel division he belongs to one of the city's biggest worker unions. He tells voters that city employees should be shouldering a greater share of their pension cost, a growing line-item in the city's chronically beleaguered budget.
"The problem isn't that they have been in Sacramento. That's fine," Presberg said of the former state officials seeking local office. "It's how willing are they going to be to question things and be willing to make some changes? I think they're going to be very unlikely to."
Several of Blumenfield's opponents attacked his decision to run for his Assembly seat and the City Council at the same time. He won his Assembly seat in November. If Blumenfield wins a council seat, a special election will be called to fill his Assembly position at a cost of at least $250,000, they say.
Blumenfield attributed his decision to an "unfortunate clashing of calendars" that separates state and municipal elections, and his desire to stay on as Assembly budget chairman as the Legislature was hammering out a fiscal plan late last year.
"If I was to back out of that race at that point, in the summer, that would have been a major detriment to the state, and to the community," he said.
After serving on the staff of Rep. Berman, Blumenfield also worked for nonprofits before running for the Legislature five years ago. He said his experience will help.
"You can prove yourself, or not prove yourself, in Sacramento," he said. "I know how to create policy and move an agenda."
Fuentes makes a similar argument. He entered government in 1999, as an aide to then-Councilman Alex Padilla. Hahn selected him to serve as a deputy mayor and in 2003 he returned to Padilla as chief of staff.
Four years later, he ran for the Assembly seat vacated when former Assemblyman Alarcon ran for the council's 7th District seat.
"I like serving the communities I was raised in," said Fuentes, who grew up in Arleta. "I feel like I can help with public safety and to help create a healthy local economy."
He is running against Nicole Chase, an education advocate; Krystee Clark, an actress and community volunteer; and Jesse David Barron, a city housing inspector.
Barron, who wants the business tax cut, said he is not daunted by Fuentes' outsized campaign war chest or his endorsements.
"He's gonna stuff those mailboxes with lots of mailers. He's got that advantage," Barron said. "But somebody's got to give it a try."