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
Sanchez has been busy as well. The longtime president and CEO of El Proyecto del Barrio, a nonprofit agency in the Valley that provides job training and drug-rehabilitation programs, Sanchez has used her varied contacts across the city to build a well-funded, competitive campaign. Sanchez is backed by four L.A. County supervisors, including Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky — who have hosted fundraisers on her behalf — as well as much of the liberal wing of the City Council. Her efforts went so well she broke the district’s primary campaign-contribution records, collecting just over $200,000 by March 27. Lawyers and businessman are among those prominently represented in her contribution statements.
"I have worked in this community a long time," Sanchez told the Weekly, "27 years to be exact." Besides expanding El Proyecto from a $500,000 agency to one that now receives $10 million per year in federal, state and local grants, Sanchez helped open four community health clinics in the Valley.
However, Sanchez has also had to answer for financial problems at El Proyecto. Last week, the L.A. Times reported that the city is reviewing allegations that the agency may have billed the city for $276,000 in excess rent. It was the third time since 1994, it was reported, that the agency had come under scrutiny for improper billing. Sanchez said the problems are strictly bureaucratic mishaps. Overall, city officials say, El Proyecto has a good record of compliance.
The duel between Sanchez and Padilla has largely eclipsed four other candidates who have not been able to keep pace with the torrid fund-raising. The entire field, however, agrees on the district’s pressing needs, which are considerable. Living-wage jobs, a larger share of city services and a program to empower local neighborhoods top the list.
"We are being ignored by City Hall," said Ollie McCaulley, an articulate local gadfly speaking at a candidate’s forum at San Fernando High School in mid-March "If elected, I will focus on economic development," added Raul Godinez, formerly the mayor of San Fernando, shifting from English to Spanish for the largely Latino audience.
Good jobs have become scarce since the collapse of the aerospace industry in this financially depressed district, and gangs and graffiti have become commonplace. The best economic-development proposal in recent months — one which the candidates uniformly oppose — was a proposal from Wal-Mart to build a store offering dozens of minimum-wage jobs. "We deserve better," said candidate Tony Lopez, a local director for Boy Scouts of America, who has raised over $50,000 but received little press coverage.
As the forum progressed and the campaign promises grew more elaborate, Padilla’s opponents focused on his ties to the downtown political establishment. McCaulley, a former Marine who has been endorsed by Republican Congressman James Rogan, received the most boisterous response of the morning when he took Padilla to task on the issue.
"You are not going to find the mayor of L.A. doing a fund-raiser for my campaign," McCaulley said, cheers erupting from the decidedly populist audience. "I don’t have money from special interests and PACs from downtown," he said, emphasizing that he wouldn’t be a "puppet and yes person" for any group.
Padilla seemed weary of that implication when he responded during a later interview, "The only people I will be beholden to [are] the people of the 7th District."
Julie Butcher, president of SEIU Local 347, which represents 10,000 city workers, was effusive when talking about Padilla. She denied SEIU was part of any deal to support Padilla, and said that Padilla got the highest ranking of any candidate in any district after debating issues at the union’s endorsement meeting. "He is an incredible young man," Butcher said.
Union support could prove key in the 7th District, which has one of the highest concentrations of union workers in the city — and a record of low voter turnout. In June 1997, only 6.77 percent of registered voters in the 7th made it to the polls.
Senator Alarcon agrees with Butcher’s appraisal of his former campaign manager, but decided not to endorse him for a simple reason. "It boils down to experience," Alarcon said. "We don’t need potential on the City Council. We need someone who can hit the ground running."