There were two ways to look at former state Assembly speaker Herb Wessons formal announcement Tuesday that he is running to fill the soon-to-be-open 10th District City Council seat. Scanning the sea of yellow caps, emblazoned in black with the words Team Wesson (its impressive at this early stage to already have a campaign color scheme), you could see it the way Bob Hertzberg did. No less a guy than Hertzberg the former state Assembly speaker who is leading the mayoral transition team of a third former Assembly speaker, Antonio Villaraigosa, and is also chairing Wessons effort pointed out the wealth of experience that a bevy of ex-speakers would bring to City Hall. And Wesson is certainly no out-of-towner, having once led the staff of Councilman Nate Holden from the very same district, and having worked for and working for again, by the way county Supervisor Yvonne Burke. Ties to the state, ties with the county. Not bad. I can think of no better team, Hertzberg said. Im telling you something. Los Angeles is going to get its fair share. City Councilmen Eric Garcetti, Bernard Parks, Tom LaBonge and Dennis Zine all showed up and said pretty much the same thing. Which moved Hertzberg to joke: With all these council members, cant we just have a vote? Which, of course, brings up the other way of seeing the Wesson candidacy. It does seem a bit like the vote was already taken, in some back room, sometime after the death in early May of Los Angeles County Federation of Labor chief Miguel Contreras. The current 10th District councilman, Martin Ludlow, was tapped to take over Contreras spot, leaving his council seat after a short two-year stay, and Wesson was almost immediately named by political movers and shakers as the successor. That pulls Wesson out of the race for state Senate, where he was to face Mark Ridley-Thomas, soon to term out of the Assembly, but it sets up the two men to challenge each other for Yvonne Burkes county supervisor seat in 2008. Thats the real prize. Sure, there are term limits, but fairly generous ones that let the supe have up to three four-year terms. Of course the County Fed has a right to hire Ludlow although the councilman failed to get unanimous labor delegate approval Monday night and will have to face a July election and of course Ludlow has the right to take the job. But he was part of the 2003 team of political progressives that were to reshape the City Council. Villaraigosa, of course, the other key component of that team, was just elected mayor with the resounding support of his own council district, so its hard to criticize him for moving up after promising voters he would stay put. Same, really, with Ludlow, faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead the County Fed. But it does tend to make you want to pin a slogan on the class of 2003: Just passin through. All the more so because former Holden aide Wesson was hardly considered part of the progressive team but has had no trouble becoming the leading and so far only candidate to succeed Ludlow, without a whisper of dissent. Recall that Ludlow was once Wessons deputy chief of staff when Wesson was in the Assembly (a similar job to the one Ludlow once filled for Villaraiogosa). Recall as well that Wesson once caught some flak as speaker for doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars in Assembly funds, without oversight, to people he called consultants, and most of them just happened to be personal friends. They included Pasadena City Councilman Chris Holden, son of Wessons former boss Nate. And soon-to-be City Councilman Tony Cardenas. And, in the months before he announced that he would run for the 10th Council District seat, Martin Ludlow. Lots of experience. Not a lot of new names. Not a whole lot of staying power. Its as if, one City Hall observer has noted, we have the Committee of 25 (the secretive business-based powerbrokers who legend has it ran L.A. well into the 70s) all over again, although its a different 25. Power is still moving around the pieces on the chessboard, and it often seems that the only way to break into the game is to sign up with the team thats already in charge. Wessson, by the way, was ready for the question on his plans to run for the Board of Supervisors, assuming he is elected to the council in the November 8 special election. (At this early point the January runoff would seem unnecessary.) I do promise that Im going to fill out Martin Ludlows term, Wesson said. Im going to finish the things that he started. And Im going to run for re-election. That would be in 2007. Instead of saying he would complete a second term, Wesson said only, Lord willing, Ill be around long enough to make other choices. The race to succeed Burke is in 2008. If Wesson runs, and wins, that would give the people of the 10th District two years of Martin Ludlow, followed by three of Herb Wesson. Thats about the most you can hope for these days. Over in the 14th District, voters will soon decide whether they want Nick Pacheco back, for up to six years, or to instead close out Villaraigosas remaining two years with someone else, like school-board President José Huizar. Over in the 8th district Alex Padilla is expected to begin plans to bolt for a seat in the Legislature, but hes already been around for a while, having completed Richard Alarcóns term. Its something to keep in mind when a candidate promises a progressive platform, policy or program. The words sound great. But they may be another way of repeating the slogan: Just passin through.
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