By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The challenge for the Fed, rather, is one of scope. Since 1996, by my count, the Fed has involved itself fully in 21 hotly contested races — for Congress, state Legislature and City Council — and won 20 of them. In each of these contests, the Fed has targeted union members and new immigrants; it has mailed to them, and its own members have knocked on their doors and phoned them. These have all been district races, however, and even though state Senate districts comprise upward of 800,000 people, that’s still significantly smaller than a city that’s pushing 4 million. There are 175,000 union members who are registered voters in the city of L.A. — far more than the Fed has ever targeted before (and more than enough to make a clear difference in a primary where roughly 100,000 votes should suffice to put a candidate into the runoff). The mail and phone programs will surely reach them all, many times, but the member-to-member program that has proved so successful in past campaigns will be stretched to the limit. Fortunately for Villaraigosa, the locals that have produced the most volunteers in past elections — the janitors, the hotel workers — are the ones most passionately committed to his cause. This time out, though, the Fed will have to entrust the mobilization of new immigrant voters who aren’t union members to other groups; its own plate is full.
The fact, mentioned above, that Maxine Waters was lobbying unions on Jim Hahn’s behalf illustrates another challenge that Villaraigosa faces. For on the issues that Waters has always cared about most — economic justice and police reform — Villaraigosa would seem to be her ideal candidate.
Indeed, just last week, Villaraigosa demonstrated that on the perennial question of achieving civilian control of the cops, he is much the gutsiest candidate in the field. On the day that Mayor Riordan sacked Gerald Chaleff as head of the Police Commission for the sin of having argued for a strong monitor to oversee the LAPD’s consent decree with the Justice Department, Villaraigosa was the only candidate to blast the mayor, condemning his action as “a retreat on the issue of police reform.” By contrast, Hahn reacted to Riordan’s mischief merely by noting, “I think the mayor has every right to do what he thinks is best.”
On issues of police reform, however, Los Angeles has a history of rewarding not timidity but boldness. Tom Bradley first made a citywide name for himself as the only member of the City Council to criticize Chief William Parker in the aftermath of the Watts Riot, just as Mike Woo emerged from the pack in the ’93 mayor’s race by being the only council member to criticize Daryl Gates in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating. By staking their claim to the police-reform vote, both Bradley and Woo won the overwhelming support of black L.A., and the preponderant support of nonblack liberals. As a veteran civil libertarian and the first candidate to back the consent decree, Villaraigosa has a claim on nonblack liberals that is strong and growing, but, as Waters’ efforts for Hahn make clear, his claim on black L.A. is shakier. Chiefly because the Rampart scandal did not involve white-on-black police violence, the African-American community is not in this election the militant base for police reform that it was in times past.
The coalition that brought Tom Bradley to power in 1973, and provided the model for America’s urban-liberal coalitions for 20 years, belongs now to history. What Miguel Contreras has been building for the past five years is the model for the next generation of American liberalism, and now, with labor’s endorsement of Antonio Villaraigosa, that future is one step closer.
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