Labor Is Back

Voters in the heart of the city sent Nate Holden to City Hall four straight times, but on Tuesday, they chose labor organizer and activist Martin Ludlow over Holden’s handpicked successor and aide, Deron Williams. Ludlow’s triumph in the 10th District is a major boost for organized labor and creates the core of a council bloc with his former boss, ex–Assembly speaker and incoming council freshman Antonio Villaraigosa. Ludlow’s victory party was a roll call of unions, which will now look to him to help move an agenda of worker protection, living wage and police reform.

“L.A. tomorrow starts with Martin Ludlow tonight,” Los Angeles County Federation of Labor chief Miguel Contreras said at Ludlow’s victory bash, “and then we will start moving a workers’ agenda into the council of L.A.”

In the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley, voters facing a similar choice — top aide to the long-serving termed-out incumbent or a step to the left — declined the step and went with the familiar. Greig Smith became Councilman Hal Bernson’s top staffer in 1980 and now gets what amounts to a promotion by trouncing school-board member Julie Korenstein with 61 percent of the vote. Smith joins a bloc of council incumbents backed by city-employee unions, lobbyists and contractors.

One of the first to arrive at Smith’s campaign headquarters on Balboa Boulevard was council President Alex Padilla, who must have greeted the final results in the Valley with relief. Korenstein declared early on that her vote for council president belonged not to Padilla but to possible challenger Wendy Greuel. Smith hasn’t openly cast his lot either way, but Padilla — and members of his staff — has not spent weeks campaigning for Smith just for the fun of it.

“We’ve had discussions” about the council presidency, an elated Smith said late Tuesday. “I think I know where I’m at. But we’ll make the announcement when the time is appropriate.”

Padilla also showed up at Ludlow’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters. But so did everyone else, including Greuel. Council members now face five weeks of horse-trading as they seek committee assignments, lucrative board appointments and prime office space in exchange for promises of support in the council-president sweepstakes. Political insiders, meanwhile, will step up the process of handicapping the outcome of key votes to come on budget items, social issues and vendor contracts.

The two runoffs were the final step in elections to fill the seven even-numbered council seats — just under half of the 15-member body. Five members were elected outright in March, including Villaraigosa. But he and Padilla mentor Tony Cardenas must wait with Ludlow and Smith until July 1, when their terms start. Everyone else is already onboard, for a variety of reasons. Bernard Parks was appointed to fill out the term of Mark Ridley-Thomas, who left early to join the state Assembly. Greuel and Tom LaBonge got to run as incumbents, having won miniterms in special elections to fill vacancies created by the retirement of 30-year veteran Joel Wachs and the death of council legend John Ferraro.

At Korenstein headquarters on Chatsworth Street, the election-night party never really got going. Equestrian-rights advocate Jerry England explained that he couldn’t ride his horse to the polls because there was no hitching post. He and several other cowboy-hatted Korenstein supporters clutching Miller Genuine Drafts chatted amiably with environmental activists nibbling on carrots and celery. But Korenstein began sending them all home soon after 9.

“It doesn’t look great,” she conceded.

At Smith headquarters, the smiles were decidedly brighter. Many belonged to denizens of City Hall — city-employee-union leaders, lobbyists, department chiefs, mayoral staff.

Smith, who said he intends to continue serving as a reserve police officer on weekends, joins an odd council law-enforcement caucus with ex–Police Chief Parks and former union director Dennis Zine. He also joins Council Members LaBonge, Ed Reyes, Jan Perry and Cindy Miscikowski as former council staffers who couldn’t get City Hall out of their system and were elected to office.

“I think it’s a tribute to the fact that people working in the council offices have a real connection in the community,” Smith said.

Deron Williams did his best to join that club but fell short, hampered by revelations about his jail term on drug charges and, perhaps, a desire in the district to let go of the Holden era. Villaraigosa said voters returned to the tradition of coalition building that first put Tom Bradley into elected office in the 1960s.

“It is great to see that the torch has been passed to Martin Ludlow,” Villaraigosa said. “It was without question his ability to replicate the Bradley coalition that put him ahead of Deron Williams.”

Christine Pelisek contributed to this story.


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