In the loud, nasty soap opera that is the Los Angeles City Council District 14 election race, you wouldn't know that incumbent Jose Huizar and his challenger, reality TV star Rudy Martinez, are playing a quiet, much more serious game of math — and their game board is the residential streets of Eagle Rock, El Sereno, Boyle Heights and neighboring communities.
If you missed the soap series so far, Huizar has been outed for having his staff keep a detailed, Nixonian frenemies list, and he was accused of diverting community-improvement money to pay six-figure salaries to his bloated staff, all fanned by Martinez-pushed rumors of an FBI investigation.
Martinez, who owns two restaurants, came under fire for fudging a building permit to expand one of his eateries. Then Huizar's opposition research consultant, Michael Trujillo, fired off an e-mail to 28 Huizar insiders in which he pledged to defeat Martinez so completely as to put a “political bullet in Rudy Martinez's head.” But oops, the creepy e-mail leaked out, and Trujillo took the hit instead, getting promptly fired.
Martinez was no Boy Scout either, garnering news reports alleging that, while an LAPD volunteer years ago, he was given a dead cop's badge, which he kept and later used to pass himself off as a member of the blue line.
How ugly did it get? A handbill passed around CD 14 touted a Feb. 8 political forum featuring Huizar and Martinez like a Texas steel-cage smackdown: Huizar, “The Thug,” would face off against Martinez, “The Brute.”
Even L.A. TV newscasts started covering the race, despite the fact that it meant taking reporters off the Charlie Sheen rehab story.
But to real political junkies, the charges and countercharges and counter-countercharges are a distraction from what really matters in CD 14, an Eastside district with 250,000 souls but so few active voters that the winner needs perhaps as few as 6,000 votes.
Campaigns live or die not by the mud that is slung but by the math — and the maps. Political consultants draw up maps showing where each voter lives, and whether they vote in city elections, or just when a president is on the ballot.
Martinez spokesman George Gonzalez, taking a break from the muck-ducking, says of the maps, “It's a breakdown of our battlegrounds.”
If you have enough campaign cash, you hire enough staffers to oversee enough volunteers to visit every active voter's house among the 93,145 voters registered in CD 14. The key targets are the mere 9,255 residents who voted in city races four years ago. Glad-handing them can provide the edge if the winner is the guy who gets 300 or 400 more votes.
At least, that's what Martinez's camp is counting on as they study their supersecret, giant wall map detailing District 14's likely and “high-propensity” voters — the rare ones who show up for local ballot decisions.
The maps, laid out across two banquet tables in a room at Martinez headquarters on Eagle Rock Boulevard, take in all of District 14: Eagle Rock in the north, Boyle Heights to the east and parts of downtown to the south.
On one map, blue, pink or green pins are stuck into the 90 precincts in which Martinez and his staffers have walked, talked and got out their message to a known, named voter. The team has 70 precincts to go, and less than three weeks left before the March 8 election.
In precincts where Martinez and his aides believe Huizar is strong and the race is tough, they'll visit each identified voter a second time to repeat that Martinez is the candidate who can kick things up a notch at City Hall. The team even IDs those homes where two to four highly active voters live together — a pot of gold to a door-knocker.
(The same strategy serves the Huizar campaign, but his staff declined to show their secret maps to L.A. Weekly, with one aide offering to reveal them “the day after we win.”)
Another District 14 map at Martinez headquarters gets far more granular, playing the role of ground zero in the extremely costly, hours-intensive search for high-propensity voters who might choose Martinez. This map defines, by precinct and by house, how each person voted in the last city election.
It shows the Martinez campaign how to tweak their message according to whether a precinct was predominantly for Huizar or against him when he was re-elected in 2007.
This is where the math gets critical — for both men.
Huizar won a blowout 68 percent when he beat his underfunded former City Council staff aide, Alvin Parra, four years ago. Parra was a strong candidate in other ways but lacked the big campaign bucks required to finance a full-on voter-tracking and map-making binge.
On Martinez's second map, each precinct has two numbers written with a Magic Marker. One number, in black, shows how many of the precinct's voters actually went to the polls in 2007. The other number is a plus or minus, in red, and shows how much support — or opposition — Huizar had there in 2007.
Using Huizar's 68 percent victory as a base number, the Martinez camp has calculated the strength of Huizar's popularity in all 160 precincts.
That's not nearly as much fun as threatening to unleash the dogs of Satan on Martinez, as fired Huizar aide Trujillo did. But it's how elections are won in L.A. — and it's why fresh-faced candidates lacking the small fortune needed to make the maps and send out the door-knockers usually can't win.
If 100 people voted in a precinct and Huizar got 88 percent of the votes in that precinct in 2007, his red number on Martinez's secret map is “plus 20” because Huizar exceeded his districtwide 68 percent victory by 20 points.
If another precinct shows Huizar captured just 50 percent of every 100 votes, then his red number is “minus 18” — by winning just 50 percent of those voters, Huizar fell 18 points below his district victory of 68 percent.
In real life, the map shows that 247 people voted in one south El Sereno precinct where Huizar received only 53.3 percent of their votes, making his red number “minus 14.7.” Yet in a precinct due north, Huizar's red number was plus 8.1, which means he garnered 76.1 percent of the vote there.
Huizar is being showered with cash from the political establishment. So the independently rich Martinez poured $150,000 of his own into his race, and he's not limiting his campaigning to precincts where Huizar did poorly.
Instead, the Martinez camp is identifying the precincts where Huizar is strong, so they can devote more money, more yard signs and more doorbell-ringers to the Huizar-leaning precincts.
That's their battleground — and that's probably got Huizar nervous.
Gonzalez says, “In Boyle Heights, where Huizar dominated with big, positive red numbers indicating 90 to 95 percent support, we'll walk all those neighborhoods, sometimes twice.”
A quick canvassing by L.A. Weekly of Eagle Rock's precinct 6331A shows voters divided. In 2007, 201 people voted in this precinct. Huizar didn't do terribly well: The red marker indicates a “minus 17.1,” or 51 percent voted for him.
Lois Lowery, who lives on La Roda Avenue in precinct 6331A, says she's pretty sure she voted for Huizar. She's not so sure how she'll vote now.
Both campaigns have identified her and knocked on her door. But she's leaning toward Martinez because of the frenemies list that Huizar made his staff keep, which tracked who liked him and graded them on whether they had influence.
Lowery wasn't too happy with one of the names she found on that list.
“I may not vote for either one,” Lowery says. “The list does bother me — because I was on it. I received a grade of 0, which means I don't pose a threat to Huizar.”
Across the street from her, Bob Dickinson and his wife are staunch Martinez supporters, complete with Vote for Martinez signs in their yard.
He called Martinez “a straight arrow” despite Martinez's problems as a younger man with a DUI conviction and an assault charge for a bar fight. “People in District 14 are upset primarily because they just want someone to listen to them. I think Rudy's sincere when he says he'll be available to the people.”
A couple of blocks away, Laura Embry insists Huizar does listen.
She credits Huizar with finding money to continue an Eagle Rock Elementary after-school program. He also pushed police to arrest graffiti painters and crack down on disreputable marijuana dispensaries.
“Rudy is trying to make Jose look as bad as he can,” Embry says. “The story about the FBI investigating Jose is a dirty play.”
Her fondness for Huizar might be helped by the councilman's generosity, which springs from the $90,000 annually in taxpayer money that every City Council member takes from the budget to spread to their pet projects.
“Jose gave [Eagle Rock Elementary Foundation] $10,000 toward our fitness program through his discretionary fund,” Embry says. “It's about action. Rudy is a person who wants a job.”
Then there's Kathy Fox-Martin, who lives up the hill from Lowery and Dickinson. She doesn't remember whom she voted for in 2007 and hasn't decided yet who will get her vote.
She knows Huizar from work he did for a neighborhood recreation center and Eagle Rock Elementary. She knows Martinez from the headlines but doesn't hold that against him.
“I don't really have an opinion of either one,” she says, “except that one's a [career] politician and one isn't.”
Her doorbell is gonna ring any minute.
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