The two apparent front-runners to replace Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas are veteran public officials with strong connections to the east San Fernando Valley Democratic machine that has sent candidates to City Hall since the mid-1990s.
Both also are women, which means the race gives voters the best shot in the city of putting a woman on the overwhelmingly male council.
Nury Martinez, a Los Angeles Unified School District board member, and Cindy Montañez, a former state assemblywoman and executive at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, are among six candidates competing in the special election Tuesday to replace Cardenas, who was elected to Congress.
Both Martinez and Montañez were raised in the northeastern San Fernando Valley and have held high-profile positions representing communities that make up Council District 6. Both are experienced in policymaking and have built connections with business, labor and the east Valley Democratic operation.
They also have built sizable campaign chests. In their most recent filings, Martinez reported raising $173,305, with Montañez not far behind with $144,704. The next closest-competitor, Van Nuys businessman and neighborhood activist Roy Garcia, has raised $26,550.
Unless one candidate wins a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters will face off in a July 23 runoff. The election of either woman would ensure that the City Council does not become all-male for the first time in decades. Only one other race features a strong female candidate. Ana Cubas, a former chief of staff to Councilman Jose Huizar, is facing state Sen. Curren Price (D-Los Angeles) in Council District 9.
The contest between Martinez and Montañez, both 39, features candidates who were raised by immigrant parents and went on to attend college and achieve success in the private and public sectors. Both also ran for and won seats on the San Fernando City Council, but their paths veer from there.
Martinez was elected to the LAUSD board in 2009, giving birth to a daughter two weeks before her win. She is backed by Cardenas, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina and the city's police union.
Montañez served four years in the state Assembly before being defeated in a run for the state Senate. She subsequently was appointed to the Los Angeles Planning Commission and is a DWP assistant general manager. She has the backing of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, former Mayor Richard Riordan and state Controller John Chiang.
Both candidates talk about bringing jobs and restoring city services in the district, among the poorest in Los Angeles with a median household income of just over $43,000.
Martinez said she would work to redevelop dormant landfills and vacant shopping centers and will push to upgrade the aging Van Nuys Boulevard corridor.
Montañez is touting a public transportation corridor linking the north Valley to its southern end via light rail or a busway similar to the Orange line. She also would link the city more closely to its public schools, supporting programs that encourage parent and community involvement.
The other competitors for the District 6 seat are Walter A. Escobar, a student in aeronautical science who promises to donate much of his council salary to fix streets and to focus on blue-collar workers; Richard Valdez, who works in real estate and says he'll hold town hall meetings twice a month; Derek Waleko, who handles mergers for a Korean trade-investment agency and said he would champion small and medium-sized businesses; and Garcia, the Van Nuys activist.