By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
VICTOR GRIEGO'S APPARENT SELECTION by the district's political heavies has not come without cost. Indeed, Griego, 43, has himself become as much of a campaign issue as crime, economic development, public transit and education. Pacheco and local Little League president Cathy T. Molina have been spearheading the challenge of Griego's residency in the district, and other candidates have joined in decrying Griego's alleged district hopping.
Griego concedes that he moved into the district from his family's current home in South Pasadena in December -- just in time to register for the campaign -- and the press has hammered him for it. "Carpetbaggers, No! Grassroots, Sí!" blared a headline over an East Los Angeles Tribunestory suggesting that Griego failed to meet the spirit, if not the letter, of campaign residency laws. A story in La Opiniónsuggested that Griego's residency fulfillment was sham.
Griego admits that his family continues to live in the South Pasadena home he owns, but maintains that "I have legally and ethically met the residency requirements." He is now staying with his brother Tom, an assistant city attorney who resides in Highland Park.
This is par for candidates backed by the Eastside machine. In 1982, a Los Angeles Herald Examinerinvestigation found that then-Assemblyman Art Torres, now head of the California Democratic Party, then Assembly candidate Gloria Molina and several of their aides were all registered to vote at the same small East Los Angeles apartment. No action was taken against them, and Torres retaliated by introducing legislation that would make it a crime for anyone to publish a legislator's home address.
Like Griego, Luis Cetina has also come under fire for a recent arrival in the 14th. According to the county Registrar-Recorder, Cetina changed his voter registration to an address in the district on February 28, 1998. And in a sworn Declaration of Intent To Run statement filed with the City Clerk's Office, Cetina pegs the date of his move into the district as December 14, 1998 -- a day after Griego's own sworn district-residency move-in date. Cetina himself, however, maintains that he moved into the district several years ago.
The residency question has dominated a number of candidate forums, as at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights last month, where one senior citizen told Cetina, "No quieres vivir con nosotros pero quieres representarnos" ("You don't want to live with us, but you want to represent us").
At a forum at Occidental College, the finger pointing reached absurd heights. "I admit I'm a carpetbagger," declared former Alatorre field aide Armando Hernandez, one of those candidates accused of moving into the district at the last possible moment. But he defended himself by saying he had worked in the district the last four years for Alatorre. Then, motioning to Griego and Cetina, he added, "But they're even worse carpetbaggers than me."
IF THE BATTLE FOR THE 14TH IS SHAPING up as the machine's struggle to survive, then the flip side of that dynamic is the raft of truly independent candidates seeking to knock off those designated by the district's old guard. Best-known among them is 1995 campaign upstart Alvin Parra, who garnered more than 40 percent of the district vote against Alatorre the last time around, despite being heavily outspent.
Understandably, Parra takes all the credit he can for showing Alatorre's political vulnerability long before scandal and a federal investigation led the councilman to retire.
"I am the only person who actually had the courage to run against Richard Alatorre four years ago, which makes me stand out from all the candidates," says Parra, 30, president of the L.A. County Commission on Business Licenses. "Having run against Mr. Alatorre four years ago demonstrates my lifelong commitment to my community."
Another candidate deemed to have a longshot chance of surprising the pundits on the strength of a refreshing grassroots campaigns is Cathy Molina, considered by some insiders to be the strongest of three women in the field.
Molina, who almost single-handedly persuaded the city to build a new Little League ballpark near Dodger Stadium, battled Alatorre for much of the past year over a permit for another youth baseball field in Highland Park. Alatorre wanted the park to go to a Little League program in Eagle Rock. Ultimately, with pressure from the community and Little League's own international office, Alatorre backed down.
"What we did was to show that you can beat City Hall," says Molina, who operates the Los Angeles office of the California Bar Association. "That's the kind of attitude, perseverance and community spirit that I can bring to this council office."
Juan José Gutiérrez espouses the same brand of politics-of-action, as opposed to politics-by-connection. Gutiérrez is a founder of One-Stop Immigration, an activist organization that provides services to legal and undocumented immigrants. Gutiérrez was also instrumental in organizing the controversial 1994 march against the anti-immigrant Proposition 187, a mass demonstration whose sheer size showed off the growing political strength of Latino L.A., but whose militant tone -- marked by dozens of Mexican banners -- may have clinched the ballot measure's success.
YET WHILE ALATORRE'S DRAMATIC FALL from grace has opened the door to a democratic free-for-all, the large number of candidates has fostered a desperate scramble for endorsements, campaign dollars and whatever political edge an aspiring council member can muster. Indeed, Nick Pacheco -- a candidate with broad connections and deep pockets -- sees betrayal, and not grassroots democracy, as the early hallmark of this campaign. In particular, Pacheco contends that he was victimized in an apparent double-cross by Victor Griego, who first worked on Pacheco's campaign and then bolted.