Money, Power and the 14th Council District Race

Former County Supervisor Gloria Molina are City Councilman José Huizar will square off at the polls on March 3.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Last September, when longtime County Supervisor Gloria Molina announced that she would challenge incumbent José Huizar in the 14th District City Council race, it seemed the fuse had been lit on the most explosive council contest in recent memory. Like Pavlov’s dog with the bell, political geeks began drooling over the expected electoral conflagration.

With election day landing on Tuesday, March 3, it’s clear how far off those predictions were. Some nastiness has been exhibited, but overall the race has been more fizzle than sizzle.

It’s still possible that this is only a political amuse-bouche, and that the real ugliness could come. In addition to Huizar and Molina, three other candidates are on the ballot, and election watchers are whispering that they could prevent anyone from claiming a majority of the vote. If no one hits 50%, then the top two finishers — that means Huizar and Molina — would move on to a May runoff. Reminiscent of Groundhog Day, there would be eight more weeks of sniping.

If the race does end this week, here’s what we’ll remember.

On Top of Money Mountain: Huizar will go down in history… as the most prolific City Council fundraiser of the millennium. At press time, he had vacuumed up $857,000 in campaign donations, which not only far outdistances Molina’s $208,000, but is more than twice what anyone running for any council seat has secured (he also has $100,000 in city matching funds). The next closest individual is Council President Herb Wesson, who has notched $402,000 in his 10th District re-election bid. Huizar has more than 10 times the $77,000 raised by Second District incumbent Paul Krekorian.

In fact, Huizar has smashed the 21st century council fundraising record of $773,000 secured by Antonio Villaraigosa when he successfully ran for the 14th District seat in 2003. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but Huizar is a record setter, the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of fundraising.

PAC Mentality: As if Huizar’s war chest isn’t big enough, he’s benefitting from unprecedented “work” by political action committees. Electoral law allows independent groups to spend as much as they want on a race as long as they don’t coordinate with the official campaign. Special interests have responded by turning on the financial fire hose full blast and spewing cash everywhere. By Thursday, Feb. 27, they had dropped $498,000 on Huizar’s behalf, according to documents filed with the City Ethics Commission. Independent groups supporting Molina had spent exactly zero dollars.

Interestingly, Huizar is getting money love from business and the unions. At the same time that the sides are tangling over a proposed hike for the city’s minimum wage, they stand united behind Huizar. As of Feb. 27, PACs affiliated with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce had both spent about $120,000 on mailers, phone banking, precinct walkers and donkeys carrying neon signs promoting Huizar (I made one of those up).

Endorse, Of Course: Molina has three of the most impressive endorsements in the race, in the form of the Los Angeles Times, Sen. Barbara Boxer and former Mayor and Not a Senate Candidate (his new official title) Villaraigosa. The latter especially resonates because AnVil had long been a Huizar supporter.

While those are good for Molina mailers, her campaign goofed by allowing news of the backing of Boxer, Villaraigosa and Councilman Gil Cedillo to slip into cyberspace before they could announce it. The political website MayorSam sniffed out the endorsements and spread the word. Team Molina never got the multiple news cycle bounce she should have enjoyed.

Special Guest Sniper: Candidates Mario Chavez and Nadine Diaz are way behind on the money front, with about $20,000 and $30,000 raised, respectively (the other candidate on the ballot, John O’Neill, has not reported raising any money). While neither is expected to figure heavily on election day, Diaz has shown a willingness to swipe at Huizar, particularly during debates. At a Downtown Los Angeles forum last month she criticized him for a car accident that the city settled for $185,000. She also led the charge in attacking him for an extramarital affair with a former staffer, Francine Godoy. Godoy later sued Huizar and the city for sexual harassment and retaliation. Though the city allocated spending up to $200,000 for Huizar’s legal defense, the matter was settled privately, and financial details were not revealed.

Still, Diaz took the lead in making it a moral matter.

And a Little Nastiness After All: The gloves in this race never came off like they did in 2011, when Huizar ran against businessman Rudy Martinez, or in 2007, when Huizar’s campaign sent out a biting mailer comparing his competitor to Homer Simpson. Still, things have gotten sharp late in the game. Late last month Molina dispatched a series of targeted mailers that feature residents of different neighborhoods, including Downtown, and the barbed line, “Councilman Huizar’s costly scandals are disgusting. But for me, the real scandal is that people don’t get the help they need when they call his office.”

Huizar, on the other hand, has unleashed a glossy mailer with graffiti-like script reading “Welcome to Gloria Molina’s Los Angeles” and showing photos of rundown homes and dirty areas in her former supervisorial district. “She spent a lot of money on cars, junkets, and raises for her staff, but what did she do for her district?” it asks. Then it helpfully answers its own question with, “Not much, apparently.”

The action ends March 3. Unless it doesn’t, and we have two more months of fun and games.

copyright 2015 Los Angeles Downtown Newsanto