MAILANDER’S LA - The contrasts remain harrowing, even a few days later: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa emerged from his first endorsement battle with a big, convincing win. And Mayor Eric Garcetti came away from his first endorsement battle, with an even bigger, utterly shocking, resolutely convincing loss.
And what a difference: Villaraigosa won big with a mere school board member in pocket, but Eric Garcetti's candidate got badly beaten by one such.
“They were measuring the drapes for Cindy’s office—but it’s Nury who’s hanging them,” was the way one wag put it.
It was obvious even by the mail-in votes in the race to replace Congressman Tony Cardenas's abandoned Council District 6 seat: Garcetti's choice for the race, former Assemblymember Cindy Montanez, garnered only a scant 58 more votes in early voting than she pulled in the seat's primary on May 21.
And her opponent, former School Board member and now Councilmember Nury Martinez, got 1,767 more mail votes than she pulled in the primary. Though Montanez had more money, more volunteers, and far more Mayor than Martinez, Martinez had a healthy lead out of mail-in votes, and it was a lead she maintained, winning by nearly 10 points in a result that stunned nearly every observer.
"You've got to win your first endorsement," longtime political operative Michael Trujillo, a Montanez supporter, told me after the big Martinez win and big Montanez debacle.
I do recall the heady tales of first endorsement battle Villaraigosa faced, for the filling of his own Council seat: how the Mayor virtually cordoned off his new City Hall staff (including many doubters), taking them outside of the building, rallying them, telling them, "We're going to elect this guy (City Councilman Jose Huizar). We're going to get him all the money he needs, we're going to get him all the volunteers he needs, we're going to make him the Councilman." It didn't matter to Villaraigosa that School Board President Huizar faced a very formidable foe in the primary, a wily former Councilmember in the district, Nick Pacheco.
I even remember Huizar being confidently brash enough to allow a renegade scribe into his downtown airspace for a wild interview--an interview his Chief of Staff Monica Garcia and I subsequently argued about later, as she implored me not to disclose its location.
I asked another LA consultant if, given the way Antonio had no trouble installing Huizar, this was a big loss for Garcetti. He was indignant about the question.
"Are you kidding?" he barked. "Garcetti has no mandate at all. None at all! Antonio had no problem installing his first endorsed candidate to fill his own seat. Even though he was backing a school board guy. But Garcetti's first endorsement with all the workers and all the endorsements and money she needed couldn't even muster as many votes on election day as a student body president gets at USC!"
Garcetti's camp was spinning the election flop as a "missed opportunity" and privately blaming the volunteer efforts for the shocking result. "Garcetti's folks were mostly good at social media and it wasn't a social media kind of election," one told me.
But the result certainly raised eyebrows among a few of those watching the way Garcetti has assembled his own political team, and brought some early and perhaps unwanted scrutiny to the personalities within it. A lot of them are longtime backers from Garcetti's immediate Council orbit who have longstanding connections to the Latino community and to Council, but little experience moving votes.
Cigar-chomping Chief of Staff Ana Guerrero, for instance, who doesn't have a college degree even as Garcetti's failed hopeful Montanez didn't, is widely acknowledged to run on emotion rather than critical thinking, and is likely rubbing some potential allies the wrong way with her vindictive anti-Greuel streak.
Guerrero has shown a particularly vindictive streak towards former Greuel allies; she has shut labor leader Maria Elena Durazo out of the Mayor's office to this day.
Political Director Heather Repenning has a great virtual Rolodex and is mostly characterized as "nice" by insiders but she certainly doesn't roll the way a full-blown hard-nosed political operative typically rolls.
"Even at breakfast, she's out to lunch," one hardball operative snarled to me about Repenning.
Cecilia Caballo came to Garcetti's Council office from Garcetti's alma mater and then via the Israeli Consulate, and works the social media side of liberalism with more zeal than the boots on the ground side.
And Henry Casas, the point person for the Mayor's office on the Montanez race, another staffer type, ran into some legal troubles a couple of years ago--the kind of troubles that not only inform personal growth towards the meek side of life, but has a way of taking you out of action on the ground for a long stretch in which the local political environment can really change.
This cast of loyalists was wrong for the kind of race that's typically run in North Hollywood and the other parts of CD6, where feuds among Latinos are intense and enough that veterans of them typically refer to them as Montagues v. Capulets or Hatfields v. McCoys. Everyone's worked for everyone else, allegiances bifurcate, husbands oppose wives, managers square off against folks who helped them cut their political teeth.
Lost to City Hall watchers in all this may be the successful candidate herself, Nury Martinez, who is known to be one to answer to few and also one to speak her own mind.
She may go on to become, in fact, Garcetti's most ferocious and most visible critic. And that's probably the best case for the newbie Mayor.
After all, the message to Martinez from the Mayor was just this much: you are someone I didn't want on my City Council.
It extends to Martinez, as not only the most elected Council member but also as its only woman, the possibility that she could become the City's top firebrand.
"Howard Finn, Marvin Braude, Joel Wachs, Ernani Bernardi--where is one of those now?" another consultant asked me. "Nury doesn't owe the Mayor a thing. She can tee off on him until 2017 at least, and her constituents, who have been screwed by City Hall forever, will only love her for it," he added.
(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs here.)
Vol 11 Issue 60
Pub: July 26, 2013