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California's May 19 Election

Even with one key Los Angeles City Council District race still hanging in the balance at presstime, the political wreckage surrounding some of California’s best-known politicians was waist-deep Wednesday, leaving Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa deflecting recriminations and floating explanations.

A political unknown, former San Pedro cannery worker and longtime attorney Carmen Trutanich, trounced Villaraigosa ally Jack Weiss for the job of Los Angeles city attorney, an outcome seen as a major blow to Villaraigosa’s political reach and chances at the governorship.

California voters also soundly rejected Schwarzenegger’s bipartisan ballot measures, Propositions 1A through 1E, which included a $16 billion tax hike, a widely ridiculed government “spending cap” filled with loopholes and raids on existing and future state funds.

The results are widely viewed as a repudiation of California’s political establishment. The only ballot question that might become a win for City Hall’s political machine is the Fifth District Council race between Paul Koretz, a product of California’s deeply unpopular Legislature, and David Vahedi, a new face emerging from the activist neighborhood council system whose members are sick of City Hall. The Vahedi-Koretz race was too close to call, with Koretz ahead by roughly 300 votes and ballots still being counted.

A big winner was District Attorney Steve Cooley — who wasn’t even on the ballot. Cooley recruited Trutanich to run, and his man won. A big loser was LAPD Chief William J. Bratton, who, like Villaraigosa, pushed hard for Weiss. Bratton has attracted sharp criticism for repeatedly inserting himself into political contests — an unheard-of behavior among chiefs in L.A., with the exception of two controversial endorsements by Chief Daryl Gates years ago.

Political handicappers are arguing over which guy faces the worst wreckage — the hapless Schwarzenegger or Villaraigosa, who can’t even get a well-known politician like Weiss elected to higher office, and who this week was slammed by Los Angeles magazine as a “failure.”

Polling expert Mark Baldassare took to the airwaves to explain that voters are telling the governor and Legislature “to do their jobs” — balance the budget on their own. Now, that task will be taken up by the governor and Democratic majority leaders Darrell Steinberg, in the Senate, and Karen Bass, in the Assembly.

But, some say, Steinberg lacks the charisma to influence his colleagues, while Bass is a too-green politician who gets caught up in controversies. Political pundits found it telling that the state ballot measure that did pass — by a resounding majority — bans raises for state officials when California faces a deficit.


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