Tuesday update: The L.A. County Federation of Labor endorsed Furutani on Monday night, sharpening the biz-vs-labor narrative. More below.

Joe Buscaino came from nowhere to win the most votes in last week's primary in the 15th Council District.

Since then, the San Pedro cop been racking up endorsements, and he seems to have the edge heading into the Jan. 17 runoff against veteran Assemblyman Warren Furutani.

So what could stop him? How about the L.A. County Federation of Labor?

The Fed stayed out of the primary, because there were too many pro-labor candidates to choose from. But the powerful labor group is expected to weigh in for the runoff, with an endorsement likely to come on Monday.

If the Fed goes with Furutani — a longtime labor stalwart — that could give him a fighting chance.

Warren Furutani

Warren Furutani

The Fed's natural opponent — the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce — also stayed out of the primary. But now that the field has been narrowed to two, the Chamber is also getting involved. At a breakfast this morning, the Chamber threw its support behind Buscaino.

That means the runoff could be shaping up as another classic business-vs.-labor battle, of the sort we've seen many times before in local races.

“There's an element of that, for sure,” said Parke Skelton, Furutani's campaign strategist. “Buscaino's a longtime Republican, and I'm sure he's more aligned with that crowd than we are.”

San Pedro is a labor bastion, with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union wielding substantial influence. So if the race breaks down along strict labor-vs.-business lines, that would work in Furutani's favor.

So it's not surprising that Buscaino's campaign doesn't see it going that way. First of all, they note that Buscaino is now a Democrat. More to the point, they stress that Buscaino has strong roots in the local working-class community.

“I really don't think it's a business-vs.-labor thing,” said Brian VanRiper, Buscaino's spokesman.

But even if the Fed does mount a independent expenditure campaign on Furutani's behalf, VanRiper said, it may not make much of a difference.

“It's not gonna matter who does the biggest IE,” VanRiper said. “It's who do people know? Who do people trust?”

Buscaino's biggest supporter in the primary was a union: the L.A. Police Protective League. He also has the support of two ILWU local presidents, while he and Furutani split the endorsement of the ILWU Southern California District Council. In the near future, Buscaino plans to shadow a longshoreman for a day.

“A lot of those people are Joe's friends and family,” VanRiper said. “Those are people he grew up with. Joe's a working-class guy. He's a police officer. His wife's a teacher. His whole family are working class.”

Buscaino's parents are Italian immigrants, and his father was a fisherman. He polled well in San Pedro, where most of the primary votes were cast, edging Furutani 29-23 in the first round. Buscaino's campaign has a poll showing him beating Furutani 49-32 in the runoff.

Furutani, who did well in Wilmington and Watts, will have to compete strongly in San Pedro to have a chance in the runoff. His campaign notes that Furutani's connection to the San Pedro tuna industry goes back three generations.

“His family worked on fishing boats,” Skelton said. “We have a San Pedro story that's just as colorful as Joe's.”

Update: The L.A. County Federation of Labor went ahead and endorsed Furutani on Monday night. From the release:

“Warren Furutani is an experienced and effective fighter for good jobs and working families,” said Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “His impressive work has helped to bring thousands of middle class jobs to the community and to train our young people for productive careers. Warren Furutani will make a difference the first day he is sworn into office. Labor is proud to support Warren Furutani for Los Angeles City Council.”

Furutani's campaign is playing up the business-vs.-labor contrast, noting Buscaino's endorsement from “large downtown business interests.”

Waiting for Buscaino to fire back that Furutani is backed by the “downtown political machine.” In San Pedro, “downtown” is an epithet.

Update 2: Even better, Buscaino touts the endorsement of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, and its president, Pat McOsker, who finished fourth in the primary.

First posted at 11:22 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 18.

LA Weekly