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Villaraigosa's Mini-Me, John Perez

Who needs voters? The fix was in on the Eastside last night

By Max Taves

Waiting for a full vote count didn’t get in the way of a good time at the John Perez for Assembly HQ late last night. After the polls closed, the party—al estilo Mexicano—began: There was an eight-man mariachi band playing loudly, a lot of margaritas and fajitas, and then a not-so-Mexican Japanese drum ensemble.

“This is the best victory party in the county,” Eric Bauman, chair of L.A. County’s Democratic Party, told the 100-person crowd at downtown restaurant La Fonda.

This victory was celebrated earlier than almost any other contest in California. Perez, a longtime union political director, had zilch competition because his main opponents—Arturo Chavez and Ricardo Lara—strangely quit months ahead of election day. That guaranteed Perez a cakewalk victory—and City Hall bloggers reacted by skewering the man behind the scenes, Perez' first cousin, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, for squelching a lively race to “anoint” his cousin into power.

It all started when Lara, an aide to outgoing Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, abruptly dropped out in March, then announced he had a powerful new job—courtesy of Villaraigosa. Lara's reward for getting out to allow a one-man coronation? A mayoral appointment to a coveted seat on the highly influential city Planning Commission.

(Candidate Chavez, who is district director for State Senator Gil Cedillo, had already mysteriously quit one week before Lara. No word yet on whether Chavez will be getting any plush political payout from the mayor.)

A large throng of supporters attended Perez’s bash, including a slate of L.A.’s Latino power elite. Los Angeles Unified School District Board members Monica Garcia and Yolie Flores-Aguilar were there. Of course, the mayor was there, but instead of glad-handing he spent much of his time crouched behind a small laptop watching the early returns of other, less predictable races.

Asked by L.A. Weekly why he gave his cousin’s main opponent, Lara, a job after Lara left the race, Villaraigosa grinned, “He’s a great guy.” The mayor kept grinning until Bauman chimed in: “Everybody is trying to make this about other people,” Bauman explained. “The race is about John Perez.” Well, clearly.

This isn’t the first time the mayor has made certain his family got into power positions. For the past two years, Perez has been Villaraigosa's appointee to the city's Community Redevelopment Agency. More recently, Villaraigosa’s sister, Mary Lou Villar, was tapped to be a Superior Court judge in L.A. County by the mayor’s sometime-political friend Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Perez was coy about the machinations that put him in office. “The night’s still early,” he told the Weekly. “I’m not doing any interviews.”

Yet despite the maneuvering and huge cash infusions from big labor unions—all designed to guarantee Perez his victory—a surprisingly high number of the mostly Latino voters in this Eastside district voted for “other” last night.

Perez' three rivals, including the two who withdrew, Chavez and Lara, yet whose names were still on the ballot, managed to win 45 percent of the vote. (That includes a lesser-known candidate, Michael Aldapa, who did not drop out, and got 14.2 percent of the vote.)

Technically, Perez won’t win Nunez’s seat until the general election next November. But the district’s demographics—Democrats outnumber Republicans by a staggering 6 to 1—assure an easy victory against the Republican who runs against Perez. And that’s plenty of reason for the mayor and his cousin to keep on grinning.

maxtaves@gmail.com