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
Soboroff and Wachs must fight each other for the city’s more conservative voters. The L.A. Times mayoral poll released earlier this month actually measured something other than the preferences of likely voters, but it nonetheless made unmistakably clear that neither Soboroff nor Wachs has any appeal to nonwhite voters. Soboroff the Republican and Wachs the former-Republican-turned-independent are duking it out chiefly for Valley moderates and conservatives -- Wachs with greater name identification (he‘s represented the Valley on the City Council for 30 years), Soboroff with a heftier campaign treasury.
State Controller Kathleen Connell is the odd woman out in this field -- a candidate without a readily identifiable base. As Connell notes, she’d be the first woman mayor of a major city since Jane Byrne was elected mayor of Chicago in the late ‘70s. Problem is, there’s scant evidence that Byrne, or other female mayoral aspirants, successful and not, benefited from a gender bump: If there‘s a distinct vote helping female candidates in municipal politics, it remains undetected. Still largely obscure to city voters, Connell is leapfrogging many of the demands of retail politics (endorsements, public appearances), and running almost entirely on a well-crafted media campaign stressing her bona fides as a fiscal watchdog. (A campaign consultant for another candidate calls her “a Democratic woman running as a Republican man.”) Which leaves her battling Wachs for the nervous-taxpayer vote, and hoping to augment her support there with whatever gender bounce she can get going.
Becerra and Villaraigosa, of course, are the two chief contestants for the city’s burgeoning Latino vote. Public and private polls differ on their relative levels of support therein, but they concur on one key particular: Becerra has virtually no support outside that community, while Villaraigosa is the only candidate besides Hahn with a base a in Latino, white and black Los Angeles. Becerra also remains the least well-known of the candidates, and lags far behind the others in funds raised. Thus, while L.A.‘s punditocracy is hesitating to make any hard predictions about this year’s mayoral contest (not after Richard Riordan, dropping $6 million of his own fortune, came from nowhere to win the 1993 race), it has achieved consensus on two points only: First, that Becerra has no chance of getting through the primary into the runoff. Second, that the chief effect of his campaign is to make it difficult for Villaraigosa to do the same.
Difficult, but not impossible. For Villaraigosa has racked up an astonishing assortment of endorsements from virtually every labor, environmental and progressive activist group in town, as well as the official support of the Democratic Party. (This Tuesday, he also won the backing of Governor Gray Davis.) Together, these groups will probably spend around $2 million on campaigns on Villaraigosa‘s behalf between now and April 10; they will mobilize thousands of activists to walk precincts and make phone calls. Much of this energy will be targeted at the city’s 305,000 Latino registered voters -- a number that the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project is trying to boost to 315,000 by Election Day. According to Southwest Voter‘s president, Antonio Gonzalez, Latino turnout on Election Day will likely constitute 22 percent to 23 percent of the electorate -- that is, 2 percent or 3 percent lower than the black share of the turnout in 1973, the year that Tom Bradley was first elected mayor.
Bradley’s name is much invoked on the campaign trail this year, particularly when the candidates address liberal or nonwhite audiences, but by any measure, it comes up more than Richard Riordan‘s. Connell cites Bradley as her mentor (she served as his first housing czar); Wachs talks about his work with Bradley in enacting the city’s 1978 rent-control ordinance; Hahn, campaigning throughout the African-American community, brings up Bradley frequently, if not so often as he does his own father.
But it‘s Villaraigosa who is actually trying, and very consciously, to do in this campaign what Bradley did in 1973. Bradley’s strategy was to put together a citywide coalition, rooted in the black community, but extending outward to include the largely Jewish Westside and liberals everywhere. In a sense, his campaign was the culmination of a decade of black and Jewish involvement in the cause of civil rights. Villaraigosa‘s coalition, correspondingly, begins with the Latino vote, and radiates outward to include the liberals, the unionists, the enviros -- all the faces of progressive L.A. As Bradley relied on a vibrant Democratic-club movement to provide him with foot soldiers, so Villaraigosa relies on the institutions of the Latino-labor alliance to put him over the top.
The Bradley-Villaraigosa parallel runs deeper than mere strategy, however. In winning election, Bradley established the model for the black-led urban coalitions that dominated American cities for the next two decades, which deepened the Democratic Party’s commitment to civil rights and social-welfare programs. If he wins, Villaraigosa would establish the model for the next generation of urban coalitions, Latino- and immigrant-led, and championing the cause of economic equity, of justice -- decent pay, affordable housing, better schools -- for the working poor. Come what may, that coalition will begin to take hold in America‘s megacities over the next 10 or 15 years; a Villaraigosa victory would hasten that day.
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