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
Lara knew what that meant. The Fed had been the most powerful force in Los Angeles politics for a decade. If Lara went against the Fed and lost, he might never get its support in the future, and that could mean the end of his political career.
Lara declines to discuss with the Weekly any details of the Getty House bargain, but he confirms that the meeting occurred and that he said, "I'm willing to wait."
In quick succession, he and Chavez dropped out of the race. Pérez launched his campaign the following month with a clear field.
"He's paid his dues," Villaraigosa said publicly of Pérez at the time, meaning that he had put in his time on behalf of the labor-Latino alliance. "He's ready. And he's gonna go to Sacramento and be an important voice for working men and women."
For the mayor, the maneuver was a familiar one. Villaraigosa has used his powers to clear the field for other favored candidates, including one shortly after his first election. After City Councilman Martin Ludlow resigned from the post to take control of the Fed, Villaraigosa cleared the field for Herb Wesson to win Ludlow's seat by offering a potential challenger a job as a special adviser.
He had something for Lara as well: a spot on the city Planning Commission.
As for the Fed, it has done a superb job of building a prolabor power base in Sacramento. The Fed has helped elect three Assembly speakers in a row, including the current one: mayoral cousin Pérez. It has been so successful in some parts of L.A. that in endorsement interviews the federation's executive board has to choose between several equally prolabor candidates. A prolabor candidate who fails to win the Fed's backing may drop out and wait for some other race.
For the voters, that means that Democrats generally come in only one flavor: prolabor. Elsewhere in the state, voters might be offered a choice between a labor candidate, a probusiness candidate and an environmental candidate.
In L.A., the choice is often already made for you, if there is a choice at all.
To be sure, the labor-Latino machine's power can be overstated. It does not have a perfect record of wins. With elections going on all the time, it has to choose which races to target. Its influence also decreases the farther you get from East L.A.
In the 53rd District, which covers the South Bay, the Fed is backing Deputy City Attorney Nick Karno. But the race is wide open, and Karno is not considered the favorite.
Opponents of Lara hope that South Gate will prove similarly resistant.
Chief among those opponents is Hector De La Torre, the termed-out assemblyman in his final months representing the 50th District. A self-described "cheap progressive," the lanky De La Torre is running for insurance commissioner. Though first elected with the Fed's backing, he has shown an independent streak.
In 2008, he was feuding with Núñez. De La Torre had criticized the speaker for handing out "golden handshakes" to senior Assembly staffers. De La Torre ran to succeed Núñez as speaker, lost and was punished by having a committee chairmanship stripped.
So it is not surprising that De La Torre was left out of that meeting at Getty House. From his early and outspoken opposition to Lara's campaign in the 50th, it appears he wasn't happy about having his seat reassigned behind closed doors. He also resents having a candidate plopped into his district from Boyle Heights.
"We're not part of East L.A.," De La Torre says. "We're not a colony of any other jurisdiction. We are a group of independent cities and a couple unincorporated areas. It's a community that has unique issues that need to be addressed by people from that district."
Those unique issues have roots in two radical changes that have swept the 50th District over the last 100 years. First, the area went from bean fields to working-class industrial suburb where poor whites toiled in a Firestone tire plant or on a General Motors assembly line.
The second change saw the population transform from nearly all-white to nearly all-Latino, a 40-year shift hastened by a ban on racial housing covenants, a policy of busing, the Watts riots, immigration reform and a series of plant closures in the early 1980s.
The Firestone plant is now a learning annex. New immigrants study English in the old factory offices. The city has a museum, where you can see the first tire to come off the production line in 1927, and the last one, from 1980. But it is seldom visited. It seems to belong to another town, one that no longer exists.
That discontinuity is a central fact of the area's political life. Voter turnout in the 50th District is among the lowest in the state. No civic groups have offered to host a debate. Before De La Torre, the last assemblyman who actually came from South Gate was Floyd Wakefield, an antibusing Republican who served in the 1960s.
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