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
IN ANY EVENT, LUDLOW OWNED UP to his misdeeds in resigning his post Tuesday, without specifying what they were. “I accept full responsibility for my mistakes,” he said — then continuing, understandably, to take credit for his achievements in the eight months he served as the Fed’s executive secretary-treasurer after Contreras’ sudden death. From my vantage point, Ludlow can count four significant achievements in his short tenure atop L.A. labor: First, he took office just as the national labor movement was splitting in two, and faced a real threat that all the local labor bodies, including his own L.A. Fed, might follow suit. Over the next several months, local labor councils from across the nation effectively compelled the leaders of the national AFL-CIO and the new Change to Win Federation to work out a way that locals from unions on both sides of the divide could keep their local councils together, and Ludlow played a leading role in that fight.
In so doing, he laid the groundwork for his second signal achievement: defeating the governor’s ballot measures in last November’s special election. A number of distinct union operations can take credit for the victory, but Ludlow kept all the L.A. operations humming, and kept them from colliding into one another, too. Turnout in L.A. County was actually 3 points higher than in whiter, wealthier Orange County next door — a reversal of the normal voting pattern, and one in which Ludlow can take some genuine pride.
Third, in recent months he’d put together a stellar new staff at the Fed, including Courtni Pugh, a brilliant young SEIU political operative, as the Fed’s new political director.
And fourth, he’d demonstrated that the house that Contreras built — the strongest house in California labor and politics — would not topple with Contreras’ sudden death. Labor could still deliver in Los Angeles. As it now will under Ludlow’s successor, who it increasingly seems will be Maria Elena Durazo, head of the local hotel workers union and Contreras’ widow. Durazo could have had the job when Contreras died but didn’t want it: The national leader of UNITE HERE, John Wilhelm, was then a possible challenger to AFL-CIO national president John Sweeney, and if Wilhelm had prevailed, Durazo might well have taken his post. Now, by several accounts, she is willing to take her husband’s old job.
A firebrand orator and cool strategist, Durazo transformed her backwater local into one of the most politically active in the city. She helped found the city’s living-wage coalition, waged a hunger strike on behalf of USC food service workers, and worked on parallel tracks with her husband to make the labor movement the tribune for the city’s vast immigrant work force. Her friendship with Villaraigosa goes back three decades, to their days at the People’s College of Law and working for immigrant rights under the tutelage of legendary organizer Bert Corona.
If Villaraigosa viewed Ludlow as a son, he views Durazo as a sister. And a sibling relationship may finally prove healthier for the city than a paternal-filial one. L.A. needs a labor movement that not only helps the mayor in his battles to build a more humane city, but that has priorities distinct from his, that can prod him and say no to him when warranted. Durazo has been working and fighting with Villaraigosa for 30 years. They should make quite the couple.