Mike Bonin is shown with Sean Arian, left, and Dela Jimenez after declaring… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)
Organized labor succeeded in sending three of its chosen candidates to the Los Angeles City Council and reelecting a fourth in Tuesday's election, allowing unions to retain their firm hold on the lawmaking body.
Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills) and former Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes won seats in the San Fernando Valley and Mike Bonin prevailed in the race to replace Councilman Bill Rosendahl on the Westside. Union groups, including the county Federation of Labor, provided financial support for all three — and for Councilman Paul Koretz, who was reelected to a second four-year term.
The council is going through its biggest transformation since 2001, with six incumbents stepping down June 30. The labor federation, which represents 600,000 workers, is playing an influential role in that process, helping three other candidates make a May 21 runoff in districts near downtown Los Angeles.
In each of those contests, a longtime council aide will face off against a well-financed candidate backed by the federation.
Mitch O'Farrell, a longtime aide to Councilman Eric Garcetti, came in first in the race to represent an Echo Park-to-Hollywood district, even though he was outspent more than 4 to 1 by former city commissioner John Choi and his union backers. He and Choi will square off in a district that had been represented by Garcetti, now a candidate for mayor, for 12 years.
O'Farrell, who had so little money he did not conduct a single poll, said neighborhood issues, not special interests, won the day. Choi, who benefited from more than $209,000 in union support, said he was proud of the backing he had received amid a crowded 12-person race.
"I think [the runoff election] will be a different type of campaign where we're not just trying to make our voice heard," he said.
On the Eastside, Jose Gardea, chief of staff to Councilman Ed Reyes, appeared to be pushing former Assemblyman Gil Cedillo into a runoff. Tuesday's results showed Cedillo fell just below the 50% plus one vote needed to win outright. But with as many as 90,000 late absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted, Cedillo was not yet prepared to say there would be a runoff.
Gardea, for his part, said he plans on a runoff campaign that shows the contrasts between himself and Cedillo, who served in both the state Assembly and State Senate over the last decade. "We're going to talk about … Sacramento values versus local values," he said.
In South Los Angeles, former council aide Ana Cubas will face off against state Sen. Curren Price (D-Los Angeles), who benefited from $400,000 in unlimited "independent" expenditures by labor unions and others. Cubas, who would be the first Latino to represent the district in 50 years, said she is not worried about the money for Price, which came from such sources as the state's medical lobby and a union that represents prison guards.
"All of these Sacramento special interests that poured money into the race, they don't understand the needs of the city. They don't understand that people care about clean alleys, clean streets, stray dogs and helping with people's problems," she said.
Price spokesman Andre Herndon said his boss is keenly attuned to the district's needs, "Which is why he received the most votes," he added.
Cubas, a former chief of staff to Councilman Jose Huizar, also has been warning that the council is in danger of having no female members. And she has suggested that there is a disconnect between union leaders and its membership during the current campaign.
Maria Elena Durazo, who heads the federation, did not respond to requests for an interview. However, her group reported that it had organized 4,300 phone banking and precinct walking shifts and had conversations with nearly 67,000 voters over the course of the campaign. "Today's results show that the candidates who stand closest to working families are preferred by voters throughout the city," Durazo said in a statement.
Union officials are expected to play a key role over the next two years as city leaders negotiate new employee contracts. They are also expected to press for a living wage at hotels and new regulations on commercial trash companies that operate in the city.
Some of the candidates who won the backing of Durazo's group also were supported by business groups as well. In the Valley, Fuentes benefited from nearly $27,000 in campaign spending from the LA Jobs PAC, a political action committee of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber also pushed hard for Cedillo, spending more than $103,000 on signs and other advertising promoting him and criticizing Gardea. Cedillo said the support shows his ability to resolve disputes.
"We have a record that demonstrates we can bring people together, just like we brought the Chamber of Commerce and the unions together," he said.
The chamber also spent more than $25,000 in support of Councilman Joe Buscaino, who coasted to victory in a Watts-to-San Pedro district. That money was in addition to $14,000 spent by billboard companies on his behalf.