Autumn Follies

CITY GOVERNMENT SANK INTO TROPICAL lassitude during the council's recent summer recess. But in one critical area, things actually sped up: Would-be council candidates were scurrying to roust signatures for their initial filings for the 2003 election. The new haste is because next year's city primary comes in March instead of April. So now the candidates have to wrap things up December 4 instead of early next year, which gave them late-summer priorities other than just keeping cool.

All of them, that is, except Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, now in his last few moments of legislative office. It may not be accurate to say that the new San Fernando Valley 6th District was created for Cardenas, but it sure is hard to believe that it wasn't. No credible opponent has appeared in the 6th District race yet. This, despite Cardenas' plentiful enemies' desperate efforts to rope someone in. So it looks like Cardenas, despite losing this year's 2nd District special election, is going to be sitting on the council this time next year. All it will take is a moving van -- he doesn't actually live in the new 6th -- and he's a shoo-in.

Elsewhere, things are less certain. Assemblyman Rod Wright, on the official record, appeared to be running for both the 8th and 10th District council seats. That's because former Police Chief Bernie Parks' D-Day invasion of the 8th District race has sent Wright scurrying into the 10th District, where the council seat is finally being vacated by the all-too-durable Nate Holden. According to the Ethics Commission, Wright has just withdrawn from the 8th, for which race he'd collected $30,000. But using this cash in the 10th District is against the rules. So he'll have to give back the 30 grand and start raising money again.

Of course, the stately Parks household now must also roll into the 8th District from its former county-area domicile. The ex-LAPD capo is the first declared council candidate in living memory who not only didn't live in the district in which he proposed to run, but didn't even live in the city of Los Angeles. But as long as he's living in and registered to vote in the district by October 5, the rules say he's legit.

Another potential transplant candidate in the '03 race has the least distance to travel, physically: Antonio Villaraigosa need only move across the street to be back in the 14th District from which he was ejected -- funny coincidence -- by this year's council redistricting. But he's the one with the biggest psychological abyss to cross because the City Council is a couple notches down from his last office. The former Assembly speaker and mayoral hopeful says he isn't really thinking about running for the 14th District seat currently held by Nick Pacheco. But Villaraigosa's supporters remember that Pacheco's pro-Jim Hahn connections included a skein of responsibility for the 2001 campaign's dirtiest trick -- the infamous "Gloria Morina" phone messages that suggested Villaraigosa's strongest supporter, County Supervisor Gloria Molina, had turned against him. The same supporters say it's payback time and that Villaraigosa, who carried the 14th District in the mayor's race, could sweep the district next year.

Villaraigosa himself won't commit. "I really haven't made a decision yet," he said recently. "There are a lot of people and some organizations in the district who've asked me to come in. They feel I could do a better job, that the [14th] district isn't really being well run."

So what is Antonio up to at the moment? "I'm giving lots of talks, lectures at USC and UCLA." He describes a hectic schedule of appearances. More than a year after his big defeat, he's still performing as ad hoc spokesman for the progressive alliance that once seemed ready to deliver the city its first populist mayor since the early Tom Bradley.

But critical Villaraigosa fans note that even the progressive public has a limited patience for past glories, and that their hero could get termed out of his present role well before 2005. So, the thinking goes, assuming he wants another whack at the Mayor's Office, Villaraigosa has first to make it to the council. Otherwise, he'll lack status in the crowded field that could challenge Jim Hahn in 2005's mayoral election. Which might well include Parks, city attorney Rockard Delgadillo, controller Laura Chick and City Council president Alex Padilla.

Certainly, Pacheco seems to be taking seriously the possibility of a fight against Villaraigosa next year. He maintains that Alvin Parra, the friend of Villaraigosa who is Pacheco's strongest registered challenger for the seat, may be a stalking-horse, ready to pull out of the race the moment Villaraigosa decides to step in.

Parra insists that he's a real candidate, and notes he's been running strong for this seat ever since he made a good showing against scandal-ridden incumbent Richard Alatorre in 1995. This time he's raised more than $100,000 against the incumbent's $200,000, and says he senses "a growing discontent with the way Pacheco is running his district."

But Pacheco still talks as though he may end up facing Villaraigosa in March. He says he'd win simply because he has a better grasp of the realities of his job. "I was just out working with a situation in Highland Park where around five houses were illegally hooked up to a single [waste water] line. I wonder if Antonio could actually deal with something like that," Pacheco said.

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