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With election fatigue setting in, L.A. tees up another vote

May 22, 2013|By Jon Healey
  • Tony Cardenas, then a Los Angeles city councilman, watches a farewell video at his final council meeting in December 2012 before being sworn in to the House of Representatives in January.
Tony Cardenas, then a Los Angeles city councilman, watches a farewell video… (Los Angeles Times )

This post has been updated, as indicated below.

The races for mayor and other top city offices so underwhelmed Angelenos, fewer than one-fifth of registered voters bothered to cast ballots.

So, why don't we have another election in a couple of months? Say, July 23?

I'm not kidding. Because no candidate for the 6th Council District seat earned more than 50% of the votes Tuesday, residents in the district will have to trudge back to the polls for the fourth time in nine months to choose a replacement for former Councilman Tony Cardenas. The office became vacant when Cardenas won a seat in Congress last November.

The runoff will pit Cindy Montañez, who collected 43.5% of the votes, against Nury Martinez, who received 23.9%.

So why didn't the city hold the 6th District primary in March, when all the other council primaries were held? Because Cardenas didn't step down until Jan. 2, the day before he was sworn in as a member of Congress. According to city officials, there wasn't enough time left before Feb. 4, the day vote-by-mail ballots were scheduled to go out for the March 5 primary.

Had Cardenas given up his seat right after the November congressional election -- which he won with 74% of the vote -- the race to pick his successor could conceivably have been consolidated with the regularly scheduled council elections. The council may still have chosen to hold off until May, however; City Clerk June Lagmay had recommended in November that the council delay the special election until May 21 to give prospective candidates more time to get ready to run.

Nothing compelled Cardenas to step down early, and by keeping his seat on the council through December, he may have shaved a few weeks off the time the district goes unrepresented. Yes, the runoff in July will be expensive -- the clerk's office has asked for an additional $365,000 to pay for it -- but there would have been costs to the special election even if it had been consolidated fully into the regularly scheduled balloting.

I asked Paul Kincaid, Cardenas' communications director, if the congressman had given any thought to resigning early to avoid the possibility of an extra election. He didn't respond right away; if he does later, I'll update this post. Last year, a spokeswoman for Cardenas told City News Service that the councilman wanted to retain his seat as long as possible because he "still has plenty of city business to attend to before he leaves office."

[Update, May 24, 8:50 a.m.: Kincaid responded by email Thursday morning, saying Cardenas "did not resign earlier because he was committed to finishing several projects and issues that were important to the city, his district and his constituents."]

The Times, by the way, has endorsed Montañez. The winner of the race will be the only woman on the council -- in fact, the only woman holding any of the city's elected offices.

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Follow Jon Healey on Twitter @jcahealey

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