UPDATE: With 100 percent of precincts reporting, "Huggy Bear" trounced his rivals and will face a Republican in this heavily Democratic district in November. See below.
It's been more than a decade since former California Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg was in the political arena, and now, hoping to make a comeback, he's running for the San Fernando Valley's 18th State Senate District in the June 3 primary election.
Nicknamed "Huggy Bear" for giving bearlike hugs to everyone he meets, he faces small-business owner Ricardo Antonio Benitez, a Republican, and architect John P. "Jack" Lindblad, a relatively rare Green Party candidate in Los Angeles. Why is the politician-turned-clean energy entrepreneur heading back to the races?
Hertzberg says calls pushing him to run, from Congressman Tony Cardenas and the outgoing 18th District senator, Alex Padilla, got him thinking.
What Hertzberg is looking for, he says, is to make changes in California working from the state level.
"The state has so much more ability to do big-picture things than the city," he says.
Hertzberg, who ran for L.A. mayor in 2005 but lost, moved on from that defeat to work on clean-energy projects. In 2008, the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. named Hertzberg one of the "50 People Who Could Save the Planet."
"I'm not paining for my name in the paper," Hertzberg assured L.A. Weekly. "I'm not looking for fanfare."
Hertzberg wants to get to work reforming the state's tax structure, better addressing energy efficiency and creating local jobs.
"In the outside world, I could be inventive and creative and do whatever I want," he says, referring to his green technology projects. However, "in the government, the whole system is deigned to protect the status quo ... you got to somehow break the status quo."
Also running are Benitez and Lindblad, one of whom will face Hertzberg - the heavy favorite in this primary - in November. Under new open primary rules, regardless of party, the top two finishers will be on the November ballot.
Benitez, who has lived in Sylmar for 16 years and served on the local Neighborhood Council for seven, says that unlike Hertzberg, he doesn't have a political agenda to serve.
Lindblad, the Green Party candidate an award-winning architect, ran for state Assembly in 2008, 2010 and 2012, but lost each race. Lindblad says the greatest threat he sees in this election is that people will "vote based on party loyalty and not the person."
Having spent roughly $700,000 so far, Hertzberg is confident he doesn't face any serious threat in the competition.
Some of Hertzberg's backers include U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, former Gov. Gray Davis, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Despite having raised over $1 million in campaign funds and having an abundance of endorsements, Hertzberg plans to keep an operation going all summer.
"I want to send the message that I haven't lost any energy," he says.
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Hertzberg has taken the old-school approach to connecting with voters and says, "what you want is a human connection ... and I'm never going to stop hugging because it's that connectivity that's critical."
Updated at 10:20 p.m.:
Hertzberg is in the lead with 64.4 percent of the votes and Republican candidate Benitez trailing in second with 28 percent.
Updated at 3:50 a.m.:
The final tally is Hertzberg with 27,171 votes or 63.10 percent, Benitez with 12,524 or 29.09 percent and Lindblad with 3,364 or 7.81.