Photo by Robert Yager

Much has happened in the 35 years since young Mexican-Americans first marched to demand social justice and economic opportunity. As the conflict gradually moved off the streets and into the voting booths, the city councils, the state legislatures and Congress, the issues and personalities became increasingly complex. The goals have changed too. What began as a cry for equality has finally turned into a leap toward power.

Xavier Becerra
Photo by Ted Soqui

This means that for the players of Latino politics, the stakes in the game have never been higher. And when the stakes get this high, the urge to cheat can become downright irresistible.

Speaking of cheating, this happened to be the week that District Attorney Steve Cooley made a double announcement. First, that he’d tied a particularly scummy anti-Villaraigosa telephone ad to the Xavier Becerra mayoral campaign and second — Cooley said this with palpable regret — that no law had been broken. But Cooley made sure that egg was left dripping off a couple of well-respected political faces. One was Congressman Becerra’s. The other was Los Angeles City Councilman Nick Pacheco’s, of all people. It was Pacheco’s aide Lloyd Monserratt, on leave to run Ed Reyes’ 1st District campaign, who was left in charge of the phone-bank computers — contracted to the Becerra campaign — that fired off the dirty call, according to Cooley.

If all that isn’t completely clear to you, I’m not surprised. Since the sentencing of 14th District godfather Richard Alatorre, the politics of the Eastside are in high-speed continental drift. Where there used to be mountains, there now are oceans, and where oceans, mountains. It’s a little early, this side of June 5, to start making new topo maps.

But wherever the up-and-coming political divide may be, it looks like Becerra and Pacheco are going to be on one side and Antonio Villaraigosa will be on the other, along with the current top power in elected Latino politics, Gloria Molina. Who is not, by the way, to be mistaken for the “Gloria Marina” impostor, singled out by Cooley, who made the “emergency call” to innumerable voters alleging that Villaraigosa had a bad voting record on some women- and children-related crime bills.

Sitting in his council office last week, Pacheco was unabashed. Indeed, he more or less took credit for the plot’s exposure. He said that once he heard what was up, he urged his aide-on-leave to contact Cooley. “Lloyd had the sense to follow my advice at this point,” Pacheco said, adding that “I didn’t see anything or do anything or authorize anything myself.”

For his part, Cooley says that until Monserratt walked into his office with an attorney, the aide and the councilman were both in denial on the whole matter. Pacheco claims Cooley says this because Cooley’s angry that the councilman sent Molina a blind copy of an explanatory letter the D.A. had requested. At this point, I started looking at my watch. It had been a long day; there had been a lot of explanations.

But later that week the Times reported, as had the Metropolitan News Enterprise two days earlier, that there were further problems with Pacheco’s link to the phony call. La Colectiva, the Boyle Heights political-services entity that made the call, got a $10,000 loan from Pacheco’s officeholder account on an unrelated matter (the loan was repaid promptly, and Pacheco later paid a small additional fine to the Ethics Commission). And now, the Times noted, it appeared that Cal Inc., the curious nonprofit side entity of the Pacheco organization that lent the Colectiva its phone bank, was under Ethics Commission investigation. It was said that, if you were a lobbyist and wanted to get through to the councilman, a donation to Cal was the way to go. This alleged arrangement lamentably recalled the favored “charity” donations that lobbyists often found themselves advised to make on behalf of Pacheco’s predecessor, Richard Alatorre.

“I judge people on their intentions,” Pacheco explained Tuesday. “On whether they’ll work with charities in the district.” He said that contributions to such local groups — not just to Cal Inc. — would count in their favor. Pacheco added that he’d also expect organizations who want to work with him to show “what diversity they have on the board of directors.”

This story certainly didn’t help Pacheco — who won his 14th District seat in 1999 against a huge field of competitors, claiming that he was the cleanest candidate in the race. You could see his high-flown hopes for the next City Council presidency crumple up and blow away. Nor will Pacheco’s impending challengers forget this mess come 2003.

In fact, of all the politicians involved in this entire Eastside chingadera de la llamada, Pacheco may be the hardest hit. And he had no visible involvement and wasn’t even running for anything.

But Congressman Becerra’s also limping around with a big hole in his foot.

Just who did the hiring for his accursed mayoral campaign, anyway — Joyce Carol Oates? Who is this mystery woman, this Paige Richardson, whose brilliant idea the fake phone call allegedly was? Sequestered as she now is in her Albuquerque Alamo, we may never know. Was she perhaps selected with the advice of the shadowy Henry Lozano — Becerra’s former staff chief, Pacheco’s sometime mentor, father of Alatorre’s adopted daughter, and longtime anti-Alatorre power monger?

In any case, no one seems much to credit Becerra’s cries of innocence. If the congressman didn’t know, he sure should have, the feeling goes. What Becerra ended up getting for all those hundreds of thousands spent to get his fifth-place primary finish was a serious net loss to his political reputation.

Who wins on this one? Anybody? Certainly Gloria Molina does, simply by being the only elected representative in this mess to introduce a little ethical perspective. Villaraigosa didn’t come out badly, either. Now, no matter how much money Villaraigosa opponent Jim Hahn and his gambling Native Americans spend for hit mail, the allegations that Villaraigosa voted soft on crime will be forever tagged to the dirtiest trick of the entire campaign.

But freshman District Attorney Steve Cooley looked particularly good. He did exactly what he should have done as our county’s official arbiter of law-abidingness. He didn’t try to grasp at convictions that were beyond his legal reach. But neither did he ignore the situation simply because such outcomes were unattainable. By unearthing most of the hidden players in this scuzzy business of Becerra, Pacheco, Monserratt, Richardson, et al., he showed himself to be a rare thing: a prosecutor who cares about more than getting re-elected. This is something that Los Angeles County has needed ever since I can remember.

You’re a Naive New Yorker

Through hell, high water and Tina Brown, The New Yorker magazine has somehow remained journalism’s weekly arbiter of What Really Is: not just in the great conglomerate of human sand grains that is Manhattan, but throughout the nation and the world.

So why has this institution stumbled so in recent attempts to elucidate simple matters in California? Late last year, New Yorker financial wonk James Surowiecki told us at length that the California Air Resources Board had embraced fuel-cell vehicles, while the CARB announcement most of us read specified battery power. And last week, Peter J. Boyer harrumphed that the Rampart case, by and large, has been blown way out of proportion. His primary source for this seems to be Chief Bernard Parks. And who would know better than the man on whom so much of the blame for Rampart has fallen?

But Boyer’s worst spin is on a pre-Rampart matter: the 1997 Officer Frank Lyga case, where the city settled out of court for Lyga’s fatal shooting of rogue cop Kevin Gaines. The city had negotiated this settlement down by 99 percent — from $25 million to $250,000. According to Boyer, however, “[Mediator and retired Judge R. William] Schoettler wrote a letter to Parks telling him he thought Lyga and the city would have won the case had it gone to trial. ‘Had the matter been submitted to me for a determination, I would have found in favor of the city . . .’ Schoettler wrote.’’ Boyer then weighs in with some extemporaneous Jim Hahn bashing: The city attorney had obviously sold out Lyga for black votes.

Before your very eyes, Boyer completely misrepresents Schoettler’s statement. The former judge said that had it been up to him, he’d have decided for Lyga. But it would not have been up to him. It would have been up to a downtown Superior Court civil jury with African-American members. The lawyer for Gaines’ survivors was Johnnie Cochran. It was just a year since the O.J. verdict. Go figure.

LA Weekly