It’s clear now that the decisive moment in this race came early this year, when Padilla appeared before the political board of the County Fed, his immigrant father in tow, and in an emotional presentation, convinced the board that he came from and was committed to immigrant labor and the cause of L.A. unions. With that, the Fed mounted one of its patented campaigns on his behalf, turning out hundreds of volunteers to walk precincts and staff phone banks, and one mailing after another targeted to union members and new immigrant voters.
Padilla’s chief opponent was Corinne Sanchez, who for years had run a highly regarded health-services center in the district, and who boasted the endorsement of many leading Democratic, Latino and Valley officeholders. Padilla had an understandably shorter résumé: Since graduating from MIT a few years ago, he’d been a campaign functionary for a succession of L.A.-area candidates. But Padilla had the Fed’s support, and that was really all that mattered. On Tuesday, he pulled down 48 percent of the vote to Sanchez’s 25 percent. Since he failed to win 50 percent, the race will go to a runoff in June, but in effect it is already over. It’s hard to see how Sanchez can raise money against a non-incumbent candidate who nearly doubled her vote in the primary.
The specter of labor’s success in the 7th now towers over the June runoff in the 14th District as well. The two candidates who emerged Tuesday from the very crowded field in this Eastside district to go into the June runoff are, not surprisingly, the two candidates who had the most money: Victor Griego and Nick Pacheco. Griego, supported by Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, won 17.5 percent of the vote; Pacheco, supported by the mayor, won 20 percent. Unable to reach a consensus as to which of the 13 candidates on the primary ballot it should support, the County Fed took a pass.
But for labor, the choice between Griego and Pacheco should be an easier call. For decades, Griego has worked as a consultant for unions and unionists — from the United Farm Workers to Maria Elena Durazo (Contreras’ wife), whose successful 1989 campaign to take control of the city’s main Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees local from a corrupt old-guard leadership Griego managed. For his part, Pacheco offended some city-employee unions during his tenure last year on the Charter Reform Commission.
As decisive as labor showed its support to be in the 7th on Tuesday, it should make an even greater impact if it goes into the 14th, where the concentration of both union members and Latino voters — the two groups with which the Fed has been most successful — is very high. Riordan may think that his newfound coattails can sweep Pacheco into office in June. But if the County Fed endorses Griego, the mayor may discover that in today’s L.A., there are some elections even a reconstituted Committee of 25 cannot buy.