Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter

Richard Alatorre, the notorious former assemblyman and Los Angeles city councilman, is about to pay his debt to society in the form of an eight-month home detention. But his politics live on, and some contend that he’s actually grooming a new political heir in a May 15 special election. The poll is to choose a representative to the 49th District Assembly seat serving parts of eastern Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.

Alatorre’s candidate is Dan Arguello, the mayor of Alhambra and a sometime employee of the scandal-ridden Alatorrista service-contracting powerhouse known as Cordoba Corp. Arguello used to be Alatorre’s chief of staff. Alatorre’s son Darrell is managing Arguello’s campaign.

“Arguello has worked for [Cordoba chief] George Pla and [Alatorre ally] Ernie Camacho,” said political consultant Jorge Flores. “He’s long been close to Alatorre. He’s currently employed by Camacho’s Pacifica Services.”

This firm, unrelated to the listener-supported radio network of that name, like Cordoba, monitors minority-compliance and similar contracts.

The May election continues a rapid and term-limit-inspired shuffle of Eastside incumbents that began almost two years ago, when Democratic then–state Senator Hilda Solis decided to bring a primary challenge against stolid long-reigning Democratic Congressman Marty Martinez. Arguello now faces Monterey Park Councilwoman and former Mayor Judy Chu, who ran for the 49th District seat just three years ago, losing by an estimated 5 percent of the vote. The 1998 winner, Cal State L.A. faculty member Gloria Romero, last month won a special election to replace the victorious Solis in the state Senate. Now, Arguello and Chu face off for the seat that Romero held.

Chu is a professor of psychology at East Los Angeles College who’s served three terms on the Monterey Park council. A local activist and former school-board member, Chu has the support of Romero, Solis, Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez and COPE, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor’s political-endorsement wing. According to sources close to COPE, Alatorre himself went to the COPE board in support of Arguello. But while the Fed had long heeded Alatorre in the past, this time it endorsed Chu by a vote of 57-11. “This shows things are changing,” Flores remarked. Others have surmised that, however strong the Alatorre organization may remain elsewhere, it appears to have lost its clout with local labor leadership. The American Federation of Teachers also endorses Chu, who’s raised nearly $130,000 compared to Arguello’s $2,000 or so to date. But insiders say that Arguello could benefit from soft spending by at least one Latino PAC.

According to his résumé, Arguello’s only held one job since his Vietnam Army service that didn’t in some way reflect his Alatorre connection — this with Union Bank. He then started working with Alatorre in the 1970s, and states that he managed the then-assemblyman’s ’78, ’80 and ’82 campaigns. He was apparently with Cordoba when it dropped the ball on the local million-dollar-plus Department of Labor Employment Megacenter project in the late 1980s.

In remarks to a French magazine interviewer last year, Chu, a third-generation Sino-American who learned Chinese at UCLA, noted the latent tensions between Asians and Hispanics in the San Gabriel Valley. But she also noted that they share the same schools, neighborhoods and aspirations: She’s worked to help low-income Latinos and Asians in Monterey Park. For his part, Arguello sits on the board of the Alhambra Asian Youth Center.

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