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The Comeback Kids

The mood was apprehensive during the first hours of the election-night party at downtown’s Biltmore Hotel, where union leaders, volunteers and big-name anti-Arnold politicians and celebrities gathered at the invitation of L.A.’s County Federation. Many in the room had spent months walking precincts to cajole and plead with residents to vote no on propositions 74, 75 and 76 — but mostly 75, which would deny public-employee unions the ability to automatically funnel dues money to political campaigns. At 11 p.m., two large video screens showed that Prop. 75 was maintaining a slender but persistent lead. When Warren Beatty and his wife, Annette Bening, addressed the gathered activists, Beatty reminded them, somewhat stoically, “Whether we win this thing or lose it, we’ll be back.”

Twenty minutes later County Fed chief Martin Ludlow took the Biltmore Bowl’s stage to work up the crowd and remind everyone that Los Angeles’ votes hadn’t been counted yet. Then, as he began to address the ballot’s education propositions, euphoric cheers erupted around the video screens. The no votes had just nosed past the yeses by a few tenths of a percent. Suddenly everyone realized that they’d won. With L.A.’s votes just starting to be tabulated, Prop. 75 — the last of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s initiatives to go down in flames — would never take the lead again. The cheering spread and the stage filled with the city’s Democratic leadership: Antonio was there, and so were Fabian, Rocky and Herb, along with Phil Angelides (our next governor?) and Eric Garcetti. But the night really belonged to the rank and file on the floor. Organized labor came in for “even-handed” slaps by ­editorialists for spending the same huge sums that Schwarzenegger and his right-wing backers had. The pundits had left one thing out, though: The unions didn’t want this fight — spending the millions required to beat back the challenge to their continued existence was the last thing they needed. By the time Maria Elena Durazo, president of UNITE HERE Local 11, spoke, the tone from the stage had become conciliatory and somewhat bittersweet.

“So, Miguel, we showed you one more time that we can do it,” said Durazo, the widow of County Fed leader Miguel Contreras, who died last May.

“Every time they come we’ll be back, we’ll be back — again and again!” Eunice Grigsby, a member of California School Employees Association Chapter 624, told the Weekly. “We love the governor, but he has to understand that he has to work with us. Watch out, governor, watch out — the working class is here to stay!”