A former San Fernando councilwoman, Nury Martinez, 40, becomes the only… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
Former school board member Nury Martinez's upset election victory over heavily favored Cindy Montañez in the San Fernando Valley's Council District 6 race can be attributed to a shake-up of her political team after a second-place finish in the May primary, well-timed attack ads and the candidate's dogged campaigning, according to analysts and campaign officials on both sides of the contest.
Big factors, according to interviews, were the timing of the election and low turnout, which amplified the effects of shifts Martinez made in campaign strategy during the runoff.
Coming just two months after citywide balloting for mayor, city attorney and controller, and eight months after a presidential election, Tuesday's balloting came after voters had been deluged with TV spots, political mailers and attack ads for nearly a year.
When urged to vote one more time, most opted out. Just 10.2% of the East Valley district's 89,100 registered voters cast a ballot for the seat left open when former Councilman Tony Cardenas was elected to Congress. Martinez won 55% of the vote, an amount that could climb slightly as mail-in and provisional ballots dropped off on election day are counted.
Though far outspent, Martinez succeeded in getting more of her supporters to the polls in three-quarters of the precincts, spread over the length of the district, a Los Angeles Times analysis shows.
A former San Fernando councilwoman, Martinez, 40, becomes the only woman on the 15-member council. Men also hold all three citywide offices.
The low turnout allowed Martinez to secure the seat representing Van Nuys, Pacoima and Sun Valley with less than 5,000 votes. Two months ago, Martinez, backed by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, finished 19 percentage points behind Montañez.
Montañez, a former state legislator and an executive with the Department of Water and Power, was endorsed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, the city's major organized labor groups and the Democratic party.
"It's shocking how far Martinez turned this around," said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A. "Even if we don't look at the small number of people who voted, we have to figure that Cindy's people basically stayed home. They probably thought it was going to be her victory whether or not they got out to vote."
Martinez regrouped after the May election. She replaced campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski with another consultant, Roy Behr. She retooled her message, reminding voters that she lived and owned a home in Sun Valley. And she and her team knocked on doors relentlessly, she said, even when temperatures rose over 100 degrees.
"People were shocked that they had to vote again," she said. "No one thinks about voting in the middle of summer in the Valley."
In late June, just as absentee ballots were arriving in voters' homes, an independent group supporting Martinez sent out attack ads depicting her rival as a DWP "lobbyist" who couldn't be trusted. Montañez responded with her own mailers attacking Martinez for not doing enough to protect students from predator teachers.
On Wednesday, Montañez attributed her defeat to the low turnout, rather than voters souring on her. "We pushed hard,'' she said, adding "it's interesting that my success as a consultant was an issue in the campaign." She will continue to work with the DWP on a consulting basis, Montañez said.
"The good thing is finally there is a council member," she said. "That district went seven months without a council person."
Martinez will be on the job quickly, working with constituents. Council President Herb Wesson on Wednesday moved to allow Martinez to immediately be hired as chief deputy in Council District 6. Martinez will not formally take office as a council member until the official election results are certified by the city clerk in two weeks.
Martinez said Wednesday that her morning had been a whirl of calls to return, meetings to set up and TV cameras to face. "It's all sinking in, little by little,'' she said.