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
He had work to do. A poll commissioned early this spring by EdVoice showed Lara dead last, even trailing a Libertarian party-switcher. Lara's campaign disputed the results, but they seem plausible. Nobody had told the voters that he was the favorite.
Another round of bad press came in March, when EdVoice sued over Lara's ballot designation. He had listed himself as a "Consumer Affairs Commissioner," referring to a county commission that he served on but had not attended in more than a year. Lara, who is de León's spokesman, agreed to change it to "Communications Director."
Despite those hiccups, Lara still has many advantages. For fund-raising, he has Dan Weitzman, who raised money for Núñez.
"Ricardo's an amazing guy," Weitzman says. "He's the hardest-working candidate I've seen out there."
With Weitzman's help, Lara has amassed a war chest of over $400,000, compared with Marquez's $130,000. There is no ideological coherence to Lara's contributors. As the anointed favorite in the race, he draws support from everybody — unions and the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, Indian tribes and card clubs, drugmakers and attorneys and insurance companies. Southern California Edison hosted a fund-raiser for him at a Lakers game.
About the only interest group that withheld its support was the environmental lobby, which backed Marquez. So Lara took money from energy companies and then paid to be on the Californians Vote Green slate mailer.
When asked for an introduction to supporters at the state Democratic Convention, Lara did not go looking for some councilman or a local party activist. Instead, he walked over to the hotel bar and found Dustin Corcoran, the CEO of the California Medical Association, which contributed $7,800 to his campaign last fall.
Corcoran's shaved head and expensive suit suggest a man who would be happier on Wall Street than in Sacramento. In an interview with the Weekly, Corcoran praised Lara's readiness for office.
"Ricardo represents a generational shift for Sacramento," Corcoran says. "He's a fresh face with a fresh vision."
The J Lounge party that greeted Lara with chants of "Ri-car-do!" is held on the convention's first night. It is a celebration of the party's rising stars. Three other guests join Lara on the bill: Henry Perea, 32, an Assembly candidate in Fresno; Roger Hernández, 34, running for a seat in the San Gabriel Valley; and Michael Rubio, 32, running for the state Senate in Kern County. All are heavily favored to win.
The drinks are on the law firm of Sheppard Mullin. De León introduces an assemblyman from Norwalk: "Here's a young man who happens to be my landlord — I won't say he's a slumlord. No, I'm kidding with you! In a couple years he's gonna run for state Senate a little south of here: Tony 'El Tigre' Mendoza!"
While Hernández is being interviewed about his platform, his cousin grips a reporter's shoulder and drunkenly declares, "I support Roger, he's my cousin, what he says is true," several times before stumbling onto a young woman who is trying to pass by.
Everyone in the room seems to have known Lara for years.
"He'll clearly win," says Long Beach Councilman Robert Garcia, who has known Lara since their student-government days.
Garcia, who is openly gay, is backed by Honor PAC, a committee that advocates for LGBT Latinos. Lara, also openly gay, is a founding member of Honor PAC, and if elected would be the second openly gay Latino lawmaker in the Assembly, after Pérez.
Lara is at the convention to seek the party's endorsement. He and the other candidates speak briefly in a small conference room before the delegates submit their ballots. It is a draw. Though Lara wins the most votes, he doesn't clear the 60 percent threshold needed to win the endorsement.
In a low-turnout race, the party endorsement isn't as important as the one from the Fed. And Lara won that one in a unanimous vote.
At the Fed's endorsement interview, Marquez said he was asked only two questions — "Isn't Downey fairly anti-union?" and "How much money have you raised?" — before he was thanked for his time and shown the door.
"I'm as good for organized labor — or better — than Ricardo," Marquez says. "I'm a pro–working family candidate."
Gonzalez, who is backing Avalos, says she wasn't given the chance for an interview. He says he confronted Durazo and accused her of fixing the endorsement for Lara.
"Maria Elena told me, 'No, I didn't cut no deal,'" Gonzalez says. "Well, you lied to me. You're telling me I'm a damn fool."
Gonzalez is just as angry at Villaraigosa, whom he sees as meddling in a race that should be none of his business.
"It's a good old boys' club," he says. "They do nothing but play musical chairs. He's gonna get a surprise in South Gate."
A few weeks after the convention, Lara sits for an interview at Tierra Mia Coffee, a slice of Silver Lake on Firestone Boulevard in South Gate. He says one of his proudest moments in politics was getting the Fed's endorsement.
The only time he ever saw Firebaugh nervous was at his Fed endorsement interview in 2006, Lara says. "To him, the labor fed was the most important endorsement. He said, 'Win or lose, I want to have the labor fed behind me. ... He said this is going to make us or break us."