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Joe Buscaino Beats Warren Furutani for Los Angeles City Council District 15: A Humiliating 2012 Thumping of the Party Establishment

Joe Buscaino (and mystified daughter) as he thumps Warren Furutani for Los Angeles City Council.

Hillel AronJoe Buscaino (and mystified daughter) as he thumps Warren Furutani for Los Angeles City Council.

By Hillel Aron

It seemed as if half of San Pedro packed the Crowne Plaza Hotel ballroom late last night for a blowout victory party for local boy Joe Buscaino who won the Los Angeles City Council District 15 race. Things got wild as newcomer Buscaino beat dull lifer politician Warren Furutani. Furutani, backed by the massive Los Angeles County Democratic Party establishment, was humiliated with a thumping 20-point loss to Buscaino.

"I think the rest of San Pedro is deserted," said Doug Epperhart, a member of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council. "This would be a good night to burglarize."

Judge James Hahn and his wife, among the San Pedro glitterati supporting Joe Buscaino.

Hillel AronJudge James Hahn and his wife, among the San Pedro glitterati supporting Joe Buscaino.

Buscaino, the dark horse candidate with little to no City Hall connections, buried State Assemblyman Furutani even after local wags -- with no polls to back them up -- insisted during the primary that Buscaino was the underdog.

But in that earlier vote, Buscaino, a Los Angeles Police Department officer, beat Furutani -- a perpetual candidate whose accomplishments during his many years on the Los Angeles Unified School District board, or in Sacramento, were hard for almost anyone to cite.

Furutani's dim track record and Buscaino's energy drew sudden interest in the run-off. Buscaino out-raised Furutani by more than $40,000 -- and got a big hand from two unions who did not join the establishment in backing Furutani: the Los Angeles Police Protective League and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Late backers for rising candidate Joe Buscaino: (r to l) Tony Cardenas, Herb Wesson and Eric Garcetti.

Hillel AronLate backers for rising candidate Joe Buscaino: (r to l) Tony Cardenas, Herb Wesson and Eric Garcetti.

A bit cynically, several Los Angeles City Hall elected officials, after they realized Buscaino had become the favorite, jumped in to back him.

Those late-comers were celebrating last night: City Councilmen Tony Cardenas, Mitchell Englander, Eric Garcetti, Dennis Zine and Herb Wesson were shaking hands, kissing union members and getting their pictures taken with the great unwashed of CD15.

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich was there, as was Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel -- she had to remind the evening's emcee that she is running for Mayor.

Even former Mayor Jim Hahn, a lifelong resident of San Pedro where Buscaino is also well-known, was there.

The candidate entered the room to the comforting twang of John Cougar Mellencamp's "Small Town," (um, the same song John Edwards used to enter the rooms) holding his daughter.

His charming little girl looked terrified as a throng of San Pedro-ians rushed to congratulate her dad and generally get all up in his Kool-Aid.

The appetizers in the ballroom were like those of a hobo's movie theater -- nacho chips and popcorn. Monitors on the wall showed the first votes counted by the City Clerk, and the crowd erupted in cheers.

"Are you ready for your hometown boy to be City Councilman?" shouted Garcetti, another mayoral candidate, from the stage.

The crowd went ballistic. After making the rounds, Buscaino retreated to his hotel room upstairs to await the final results and to schmooze with his future City Hall colleagues.

"Hey!" said Buscaino outside his room. "You feel the love down there?"

Joe Buscaino's private thoughts: Oh my God, they gave me all this power and a $178,789 salary!

Hillel AronJoe Buscaino's private thoughts: Oh my God, they gave me all this power and a $178,789 salary!

When asked by LA Weekly about his improbable rise, he said, "Folks were thirsting for a political outsider. I'm hoping this campaign will inspire others and show that someone from the community can be successful in an election."

Downstairs, Epperhart wasn't quite as sanguine. He assumes Buscaino will buckle to the pressure to conform on the Los Angeles City Council, voting as his peers do, with 97.5 percent unanimity.

"Once you go down and get your seat in the fortress, it changes you," he said.

Buscaino will replace the empty City Council seat left by former Mayor Hahn's sister Janice Hahn, who is now in Congress. Her chief of staff, Doane Liu, will be Buscaino's chief of staff as well.

For further reading:

--MayorSam live-blogged it last night and seemed to have a lot of fun, but is that unfortunate final photo really the "son of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa" or is Mayor Sam just getting a witty dig in about the mayor's gene pools?