The Silenced Warrior

Lloyd Monserratt loved a good fight. His own quest to become UCLA student-body president 15 years ago sparked a mini-riot. Later, he trained Latino office seekers in the nuts and bolts of campaigning, got out the vote for congressional Democrats, and led campaigns to put Ed Reyes, Janice Hahn and Nick Pacheco on the Los Angeles City Council.

But he relished no election battle more than Pacheco‘s effort this year to hold on to his Eastside 14th District council seat against the challenge of Antonio Villaraigosa, the charismatic former state Assembly speaker and mayoral candidate. The nearly 400-pound Monserratt provided much of the energy, organizing skill and strategy for the Pacheco campaign. Last week, he was preparing to step down as Pacheco’s chief of staff to take command of the re-election effort.

Monserratt died on January 9, at age 36, forcing the Pacheco campaign to regroup at a crucial time and removing from the scene a key player in the strategic Latino alliance that has slowly jelled since the downfall of Pacheco‘s predecessor, Richard Alatorre.

Working with Sacramento campaign consultant Phil Giarrizzo and local power broker Henry Lozano, Monserratt in recent years assembled a cadre of elected officials who paid obeisance to neither Alatorre nor his rival, county Supervisor Gloria Molina. Ex--Molina acolyte Xavier Becerra was on the Monserratt team. So were Becerra’s congressional colleague Lucille Roybal-Allard and, of course, Pacheco. Joining with council President Alex Padilla, they aligned themselves against Villaraigosa‘s 2001 mayoral bid, backed James Hahn and a formed what can best be called an alternative Los Angeles Latino power base.

One of this power base’s less savory associations is with no-holds-barred campaigning. Two Becerra-for-mayor campaign workers turned out to be behind the notorious “Gloria Marina” phone-message attack on Villaraigosa, in which a woman who was plainly meant to be taken as Molina warned against voting for the ex-speaker. The district attorney investigated and reported that Monserratt programmed the equipment that sent out the taped call.

It seemed Monserratt could not shake his connections with controversy, born in the 1988 student-body president election. He won that race, but UCLA‘s student government disqualified him for having too few academic credits. He charged that administrators misplaced his records, and his supporters said he was a victim of racism. Hundreds of angry students upended voting booths in the follow-up election; police were called, and state Senator Art Torres called for a probe of racial tensions on campus.

One can assume that Monserratt set out to make sure no election would ever again be taken from him.

He spent several years working with the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, teaching campaign strategy. He lost a close and bitter fight to elect Lucia Rivera to the school board when his candidate came up 76 votes behind David Tokofsky. But he helped elect Vicki Castro to the board, and a host of legislators and local city council members.

One of his biggest triumphs came when he piloted Pacheco to victory four years ago.

Pacheco insisted last year, and continues to insist today, that Monserratt had nothing to do with the Gloria Marina tape. A volunteer for the phone bank, Monserratt helped operate the equipment but had no way of knowing the content of the messages sent out, Pacheco said.

Soon after the incident, Pacheco made Monserratt his chief deputy. To some, it may have seemed that the councilman was rewarding his lieutenant for having taken the heat or that he was being given a safe harbor until this year’s campaign.

But in fact, the son of Ecuadorian immigrants blossomed as a council staffer. He poured himself into decidedly prosaic (but widely envied) projects like creating a local center for residents to dump their sofas and lining up street paving for 14th District roads that had not seen a new coat of blacktop in half a century.

And he excelled at winning over unhappy constituents.

“Lloyd could get anyone to change their mind,” Pacheco staffer Brissa Sotelo said. “When people were upset at local government, he started a neighborhood leadership institute to show people how to access City Hall. He said this was the second chance for city government.”

Still, Monserratt was a campaigner, and he was intent on defeating Villaraigosa. So it is curious that he chose the second week of the new year, when the campaign for the March 4 election was starting in earnest, for elective weight-reduction surgery. He was recovering from the operation at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Harbor City, and had already made numerous calls to campaign staff from his hospital bed, when complications set in.

Pacheco said Monserratt told him the surgery was considered routine and that he would be back in a week. Sotelo pointed out the area in Pacheco‘s Eagle Rock campaign office where Monserratt instructed her to place his bed -- and several telephones.

Henry Lozano, the strategist who worked closely with Monserratt, said his friend’s unexpected death was a blow, but he predicted it would galvanize the campaign.

“There is incredible enthusiasm here,” Lozano said. “People want to win it for Lloyd. He wanted this one really bad.”

The win-it-for-Lloyd factor may yet show enough power to make up for the loss of Monserratt‘s skill and counsel. That fact apparently was not lost on Villaraigosa Monday, when he opened his first-ever face-to-face debate against Pacheco with some unexpected words.

“Let’s start with a moment of silence,” Villaraigosa said, “for Lloyd Monserratt.”

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