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
Pacheco, 35, has known Griego since he was a youngster, and his mother until recently worked as the custodian at Griego's Highland Park office. Late last year, as the campaign filing deadline drew near, Pacheco says he approached Griego about helping him on the campaign, despite warnings from Becerra staff chief Henry Lozano, who personally undertook an unofficial role in managing Pacheco's campaign.
"I told Nick not to trust him," says Lozano. "Victor's a gun for hire. He has no loyalty to anyone but himself. I've seen him turn on Alatorre when he worked for Alatorre."
Griego says he decided to jump into the race late last year, when it became evident that no consensus alternative to Alatorre was emerging and he concluded, after consulting with family and friends, that he himself could put together a serious campaign.
At the time, though, Pacheco was under the distinct impression that Griego was committed to his candidacy.
"One night, [Victor] invites me to a fund-raiser for [Sheriff] Lee Baca for the sole purpose of me meeting potential contributors," Pacheco recalls. "The next morning he calls me up to tell me that he's running and that he's getting a $100,000 loan on his mortgage on his house in South Pasadena to run . . .
"I don't talk to him anymore. I'll never trust him again in my life."
Griego says that he had made no firm commitment to Pacheco, and insists that it is not disloyalty but the opposite, his unselfish work on behalf of clients, that has earned him the support of political leaders such as Villaraigosa, Polanco and others.
Griego's roots on the Eastside indeed are deep. In 1984, he organized the most successful Latino voter-registration drive in history. He later organized for the United Neighborhoods Organization, the church-based neighborhood group that rose to prominence in the late '80s. In between he worked as an Assembly aide to Alatorre, then left to oppose Alatorre by running Mike Hernandez's Assembly campaign against Polanco. Finally, Griego went into business for himself as a political consultant specializing in Latino and Eastside campaigns.
"Victor," says Hernandez, who has also endorsed Griego, "is an organizer's organizer."
In endorsing him, Villaraigosa praised Griego as a "people person."
"I met Victor 15 years ago, when he was chair of the Greater Eastside Voter Registration and Education Project," said Villaraigosa. "He registered 43,000 new voters in East and Northeast L.A. -- more than anyone in that area had ever registered before. Today, I am impressed that, years later, he continues to develop participation among the people of this community."
The endorsements of Griego from Villaraigosa and Polanco are important beyond the symbolism for a campaign that already exceeds the nearest rival in fund-raising by $50,000. They bring with them an organization that is becoming more and more evident in legislative and local campaigns in which the Polanco machine gets involved. When political newcomer Jenny Oropeza found herself in a close campaign for a seat on the Long Beach City Council last year, she put in a call to Polanco. Almost overnight, Polanco dispatched six experienced staffers to oversee and man the campaign's get-out-the-vote drive. On Election Day, Oropeza won with 60 percent of the vote.
"If there is one single architect for the rise of Latino power in the 1990s in California," says Latino demographer and political observer Gregory Rodriguez, "it's Richard Polanco."
Adds veteran Latino political expert Louis F. Moret, who lives in Eagle Rock, "If you wanted an endorsement, who would you want? Polanco. Polanco brings money, the spirit to fight and the ability to put his money where his mouth is."
UNTIL THIS YEAR, OF COURSE, IT WAS Alatorre, not Polanco, whose endorsement carried the most weight on the city's Eastside. Now, however, Alatorre's allegiance is a mixed blessing, and in the case of the current campaign, a cryptic one. And nobody was more surprised than Luis Cetina when, early this year, Alatorre dropped by Cetina's Eagle Rock campaign office and offered his services as a campaign volunteer.
There apparently is little history between the politically slick Alatorre, who has come to be synonymous with backroom deals and alleged political impropriety, and the 33-year-old Cetina, a Cal Poly graduate and civil engineer -- and former Republican -- whose telegenic charisma appears to be matched by his political naiveté.
To his credit, Cetina, who probably speaks the best Spanish of all the candidates, has packaged a platform that includes a campaign to refurbish rundown business districts and neighborhoods plus drawing in new businesses to build a badly needed tax base.
Cetina has also garnered his own roster of political endorsements, although most have been from outside the district. The most notable of those has been Checchi, a friend of Alatorre for whom Cetina volunteered during his gubernatorial campaign.
As the campaign began to heat up, the Alatorre crowd was even taking credit for Cetina's getting the endorsement of the important Service Employees International Union, whose own hand-picked candidate -- SEIU political director Jorge Mancillas -- had suffered the humiliation of failing to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
"Richard and I got Cetina the SEIU," said longtime Alatorre loyalist Bill Orozco. "They owed Richard for all he's done, and they owed me for helping them organize in [the City of] Commerce."