EASTSIDER-Every once in a while, there is a moment in political history, an inflection point, where the choice between two candidates can actually make a huge difference in the lives of Angelenos.
I want to revisit one such moment when a solid and honest candidate lost out to a major league crook.
As a lifetime small ‘d’ grassroots democrat, I can safely state that Gloria Molina was just that, to the discomfort of our establishment democratic party. Even better, she just didn’t care what the establishment thought, truly earning the characterization of a maverick.
After a stint on the LA City Council (CD1), she went on to a very full career on the LA County Board of Supervisors from 1991 to 2014, courtesy of term limits not being imposed until 2002 on a non-retroactive basis.
My personal interactions with the Supervisor date back to the 90s, when I ran a couple of Commissions for LA County, its Employee Relations Commission, and its Civil Service Commission. Long story short, there are two or three things I can say about Gloria Molina from those days.
First, Department Heads and key executives in the County were terrified of having to show up at the Board meetings when she wanted them to appear, usually with good reason. Second, her staff was almost fanatical in their personal loyalty to her, also with good reason. Third, and my personal impression from various California Democratic Party events, is that the establishment Democratic party did not like her one whit.
For Molina’s part, the only reason she left the Board of Supervisors was that she was finally termed out in 2014. That’s when she set her sights on one Jose Huizar, and his 2015 campaign for re-election to CD 14.
For a really good LA Times article on who Gloria Molina is, check out this one by Abby Sewell written as the Supervisor was leaving office.
The 2015 CD 14 Election
I actually wrote three CityWatch articles about this election, which had the potential to change politics in Northeast LA, and maybe even change politics on the LA City Council.
In the initial phases of the campaign, the entire Democratic Party establishment was in love with Councilmember Huizar. In an early endorsement from the Northeast Dems (NEDC), most of the officers were already working for Huizar, the LADEMs, or someone associated with the incumbent. As I wrote at the time:
“Now I must admit that I haven't been active in the Club since the last City Council election cycle, so shame on me, but it still seems to me that having a democratic club essentially run by professional political types, and disadvantaging the challenger in the CD 14 race debate, could be construed as having the appearance of impropriety.
If this was a Neighborhood Council function, I suspect the City Attorney's office would be all over us like the thought police, and screaming foul. Of course it wasn't a Neighborhood Council function, and clearly political parties don’t seem to be subject to the same scrutiny as City entities.”
The second article was from covering the Huizar/Molina debate hosted by the Pat Brown Institute, Cal State LA, and the League of Women Voters:
“On Wednesday evening, the Pat Brown Institute/Cal State LA, the League of Women Voters, and ABC Channel 7 hosted what is probably the most important debate in the Council District 14 race, and it was a doozy. ,,, and later
Unfortunately for the Councilman, the responses from the other candidates, particularly Gloria Molina, attacked the incumbent in some detail as a lazy captive of big money special interests, who only spends time and money talking to constituents at election time. And there were enough specifics to sting.”
My third and final article was called LA City Elections and the Slow Death of Small 'd' Democracy, where the title says it all:
“In a super low voter turnout election where Huizar got 2/3 of the vote:
The results are in, and a whopping 8.62% of LA City voters bothered to turn out to vote. The big winner was vote-by-mail, which accounted for over 54% of the ballots cast. And the two Charter Amendments passed with over 75% Yes votes. Looking at these numbers, you really have to wonder if it’s the cumulative effect of nasty voter suppression efforts by those clever (and expensive) campaign consultants or just a visceral belief by the troops that the City of Angels is a political mess where even thinking about the City brings on a migraine.”
In retrospect, during the 2015 race I think what we all missed was the incredible scale of Huizar’s graft, which was in full force long before the 2015 election. As the 172-page Federal Complaint against him states, between March 2013 and November 2018, this “Enterprise” was in full swing, with Huizar’s PLUM Committee as developer heaven.
And even the so-called legitimate contributions to him are huge. As Peter Dreier noted in a recent Citywatch piece:
“But Huizar, like many politicians, was also adept at “honest graft.” That has to do with the legal bribery that’s known as campaign contributions. Since he first ran, successfully, for the City Council in 2005, Huizar has received $3,704,628.56 in contributions, according to data on the Los Angeles Ethics Commission’s website.”
The Backstory of CD 14 and Jose Huizar
Going way back before term limits, we always had colorful Councilmembers in CD14, like Art Snyder (missed by many of us), Richard Alatorre (not so missed), and then a quick set of musical chairs.
Nick Pacheco got taken out by Antonio Villaraigosa, who then promptly went on to become the Mayor of Los Angeles, and he in turn was replaced by none other than downtown real estate lawyer and LAUSD Board member, Jose Huizar.
Of course, most people didn’t realize what a crook he was at the time, but there’s a reason I gave him the moniker of “God’s Gift to the Eastside,” sort of like a heavenly plague. In fact, a 2018 CityWatch article details his beginnings with the Legislature, then as a downtown land use attorney, and on to glory with the LAUSD -- running their construction program with over $6 billion dollars in the kitty.
With Monica Garcia, no less, as his Chief of Staff. With the sweet smell of developer money and the CRALA, with their Adelante East LA land use project. Eli Broad and Richard Riordan loved him. He quickly took over the PLUM Committee, and heaven became a reality.
For a crook, however, the money’s never enough.
Back in 2015, stakeholders in CD14 missed their only real opportunity to get rid of God’s Gift to the Eastside (now a pled-out criminal) Jose Huizar. So I’m going to engage in a little “what if” wishful thinking, and go back to the 2015 election campaign pitting Jose Huizar against Gloria Molina.
In a legitimate race with a decent turnout, I believe that Gloria Molina would have won. And if she did, believe me the LA City Council and our current Mayor would not have been able to get away with half of the slimy things they do every single day while pretending to represent the governed.
15-0 votes would have been 14-1 with a serious and vocal reason for the nay vote. As for land use graft, there is no question in my mind that Gloria Molina would have ratted out the rats. Consequences be damned.
Instead, look at the mess we are in, with further indictments likely, and with who-knows-who-else who will give up someone in the City to save themselves.
For these reasons, I miss Gloria Molina and the basically rigged 2015 Council election that denied her a runoff. 8.6% voter turnout indeed. The City of Angels is less for her loss five years ago.
(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.