Anointed by Antonio

The election to replace Martin Ludlow as city councilman took place last week and, well, sorry, voters of the 10th district, but you weren’t invited. If you want to feel like you still count, you can drop by the voting booth on November 8 and mark your ballot. In fact, you should. It will look nice. But if you’re busy that day, don’t worry about it, because it doesn’t really make any difference. You’re getting Herb Wesson.

That’s because August 11 was the last day for would-be candidates to file their completed nomination papers, and by the end of the day there were only two who had done so and were deemed qualified: Wesson, your new councilman (congratulations!), and Barry E. Levine, who we’ll get to in a moment.

Signatures are still being counted for Robert David Serrano, so theoretically he still has a shot to get on the ballot as well.

Wesson had all the endorsements and all the money lined up from the time that Ludlow announced that he was stepping down after two years to replace the late Miguel Contreras as leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Termed out of the state Assembly and biding his time before a probable run for the county Board of Supervisors in three years, Wesson moved into the district and said, "Here I am." The one truly viable opponent, community activist Denise Fairchild, made a serious attempt. But the only votes that count — those of the powerbrokers in City Hall and Sacramento — had already picked Wesson and began applying their gentle persuasion to Fairchild.

On deadline day, instead of showing up to the counter at the City Clerk’s office with her 500 signatures, Fairchild was at a news conference in Watts, standing next to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, accepting a job from him as an adviser on South L.A. issues.

Fairchild said the decision to back out of the race and take the job offered by the mayor was hers alone. But Villaraigosa had made it clear, quietly, that he wanted Wesson on the council, and much of the labor and progressive political support that Fairchild expected failed to materialize.

Villaraigosa was, of course, the first state Assembly speaker from Los Angeles in years, back in the late 1990s. He was succeeded by Bob Hertzberg, also from Los Angeles, who was succeeded by Wesson, also from Los Angeles, who was succeeded by Fabian Nuñez, also from Los Angeles. Villaraigosa wanted Wesson, Hertzberg chaired Wesson’s campaign, and Nuñez — according to sources in City Hall and Sacramento — got on the phone to anyone who might have had other ideas. Plus, Ludlow once worked for Wesson, on his staff and as a paid consultant. So every potential Wesson opponent dropped out.

Except Levine, a photographer who readily acknowledged that he picked up his working knowledge of politics shooting political fund-raisers and events like Gray Davis’ wedding.

Levine points out that he’s lived in the district for 30 years, "unlike Herb Wesson." He’s been involved in his kids’ elementary school.

"It’s worth a try," Levine said. "It bothers me that Herb would be anointed."

It may bother others as well, but Levine also said he planned to raise no money (Wesson’s war chest was already past $70,000 by July 1), and he acknowledged that he’s a bit of an underdog, being a white guy in a district that is traditionally black — having produced Tom Bradley, David Cunningham, Nate Holden and Ludlow — with a growing Latino population and a majority of Koreatown.

So if Levine, vowing to raise not a single dollar, could win the election in theory, it’s pretty much only in theory. The same holds true for Serrano if he actually qualifies for the ballot after city clerk review.

Levine said he hadn’t yet gotten a single call from anyone urging him to drop out, or offering him a job or anything else.

That may be because no one really figured he’d be a problem. Today, though, he is very much a problem. Because with Levine in the race (and, possibly, Serrano), everything really does have to wait until November 8. If he leaves, the City Council — more than half of whose members have endorsed Wesson, and all of whom are in some way or another beholden to, or afraid of, Villaraigosa, and all of whom know Wesson will be joining them before long — will see no reason not to appoint Wesson to the council immediately. So Levine’s phone may start to ring soon.

So there it is. The voters need not be bothered. They’re not needed. This government stuff works so much more smoothly without them.

Now, about the race to succeed Wesson in 2008, when he moves on to the Board of Supervisors... oh, don’t worry about it. It’s early. We’ll let you know.

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